Last month on a long drive home at the end of vacation, I found myself hooked on Jason Whitlock's podcasts while rolling through the Smokey Mountains. It started with a great NCAA debate with Seth Davis, then a surprisingly candid and informative discussion with Keyon Dooling, a VP for the NBA Players Association, and wrapped up with a hilarious and highly entertaining podcast about Las Vegas. J Witty, Warren Central alum, is never afraid to mix it up on any issue and is now in my regular podcast rotation.
The Keyon Dooling conversation put a thought in my head about the Indiana Pacers that continues to hang around. Of course, Whitlock is a huge Pacers fan that has been critical and dismissive of the team during their struggles the past few years, so I nearly swerved off the road when I heard him praise the Pacers and suggest that Dooling would be a great fit for the young team in need of veteran leadership off the bench and in the locker room to take the next step.
Whitlock's praise was yet another indication of how the perception of the Pacers changed and changed in a hurry at the end of last season. Whenever the labor issues end, the Pacers will be in the middle of a free agent frenzy and while much of the free agent focus is on landing a productive power forward, there will be at least five open roster spots to fill before the seaons starts which need to address other issues to help the Pacers improve.
Team chemistry and leadership are among those issues when you consider the Pacers locker room struggled to stick together through the tough times last year. There certainly weren't enough strong, veteran voices to keep things together. Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and Jeff Foster are follow-my-lead-on-the-court-type of guys and not the type to stand up and call players out or hold anyone accountable in the locker room. T.J. Ford pretty much stayed out of the fray as his minutes disappeared.
James Posey seemed like a good candidate to add some veteran help until we find out he challenged Frank Vogel's authority which now takes the teeth out of anything he can offer in the final year of his contract. Dahntay Jones has the strongest voice in the locker room despite is soft-spoken ways when the media mics click on. That voice can stir things up as much as it can help, but with a bigger role under Vogel, Jones delivered when called on. Still, it will be interesting to see if both of these guys remain with the Pacers through next season.
Assume both Posey and Jones remain on the roster, the Pacers still need to use a roster spot or two on a vet willing to play off the bench and stay in the ear of the young core of players. The veteran leaders that are part of the team over the next two years can help shape the future success of the team regardless of what kind of minutes or production they provide on the court because of impact they can have on a Darren Collison, a Roy Hibbert, a Paul George.
So what veteran player or players would you like to see the Pacers add to the roster to help improve the chemistry of the team?
After listening to Dooling, I'd love to see him with the Pacers as well, simply because he'd be a well of great quotes. But I'm selfish like that. Dooling's NBA career certainly hasn't gone as he envisioned when he left Missouri, yet he's carved out a nice career. I'd consider him, or any veteran point guard (Earl Watson?) a long shot for the Pacers unless they let A.J. Price and his non-guaranteed contract go.
Price could certainly be let go, especially if the Pacers are ready to go all in with Lance Stephenson, which seems plausible. Now if the team is left with Collison and Stephenson, then they will be desperate for a steady, veteran point guard prepared for a fluctuating role on the roster. So who do you want?
Another player that I'd love to see in blue and gold is Shane Battier who could be a quality asset for the organization beyond the minutes he plays. We know he's a scouting report fiend and with his reputation around the league, every team will be interested. Battier turns 33 next week and could easily join the Miami Heat or some other title-contending team as his playing career winds down.
But while he's thinking about his playing career winding down, the Pacers could lure him a little more money in the short term and a spot in the front office for the long term. I realize they can't put the front office part in the contract but they can talk about the next phase of Battier's basketball life. Whatever it takes to get him in the building would be worth it to add a quality asset and basketball mind to the organization.
Plenty of other leaders lingering out there. Who else would work well with the Pacers?