Brushing up against greatness
Last season the Indiana Pacers stood a mere one game from the NBA finals. The question going into this offseason is can they get over the hump? The answer will be mixed. Let’s clarify a few things first: any successful NBA team is governed by a few key players. Last year for the Pacers, this boiled down to 4 players:
As the Pacers have kept all of these players, it seems likely they’ll continue to be good next year. But can they be great?
Getting over the hump?
If the Pacers hope to improve they need one a few cases to happen:
- Their core “good players” will need to see a leap in performance.
- They will need to acquire different (and better) top players.
- They will need to acquire a stronger “supporting” group.
The good news is that as Paul George, George Hill, and Stephenson are all young, they may improve. Currently they all sit just outside of “star” range. With a little improvement, the Pacers could get a star. It is also possible that the Pacers could sign another star player. Except, with roughly $35 million a year tied up in Hibbert, West, and Hill, and George coming off his rookie contract next season, this is unlikely.
Bad moves after good
Now, in regards to improving their current roster? Well, this offseason has certainly been a head-scratcher. First, the Pacers signed David West to a three year $36 million dollar deal. Last year he was just worth that. But throughout most of his career he’s been an average player. Last season was the best of his career. Given that he is 32 years old, it seems unlikely he’ll keep it up. As I mentioned, the Pacers don’t have a ton of room to spend if they intend on keeping Paul George. This isn’t a terrible move, but it’s not a good one either.
Let’s move onto to their most recent move, which I will call terrible. The Pacers traded Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, and a 1st round pick for Luis Scola.
And rest assured, no part of this trade is good for Indiana. This is a bad trade for Indiana. First, Scola hurts their cap. At around $5 million a year, he further restricts any future moves.
What’s more, Scola has been terrible! When he first joined the league, he was quite good. It’s worth noting is that Scola was drafted in 2002 and did not join the NBA until 2008. At this time he was a 28 year old player, just exiting his prime. Through 2010 he was a productive member of the Rockets. In 2011 his performance tanked and the Rockets wisely amnestied him. The Suns decided to take a chance on him and he was still terrible. So, why do the Pacers want him? He’s a 32 year old, $5 million dollar bad player.
The Pacers gave up Miles Plumlee, who we liked based on his college numbers. Last year he didn’t really play, so we don’t have any idea how good he can be. The difference is that Plumlee is younger than Scola, cheaper than Scola, taller than Scola, and likely to be more productive going forward. Straight up Plumlee for Scola would be a loss.
The Pacers did dump Gerald Green, who has been quite bad; that is a plus. But that brings us to the third part of the trade: the Pacers also gave up a first round pick. I believe it’s lottery protected, but given the strength of the East and the Pacers’ current roster, that’s not a concern. The simple point is that the lottery is one of the best places to get new talent. Due to the ridiculous draft rules, players’ salaries are capped. Due to bad talent evaluation, there are usually good prospects still available late in the first round. I would rather have the promise of a first round pick than Scola any day.
The final word
The truth is the Pacers aren’t in bad shape. Really only a few players matter a great deal and the Pacers still have their best ones. Of course, next season when Granger and George both become free agents, we’ll see what happens. Regardless, for Pacers fans hoping for improvement in the offseason, well this hasn’t happened. It’s possible that the Pacers’ young backcourt core will improve faster than David West will degrade. And if this occurs, the Pacers will be better. As a lot of the Eastern Conference is in free fall, the Pacers can still also expect to go far in the playoffs. However, for Pacers’ fans who were hoping for wise moves to make a good team great? This offseason has yet to deliver that.