Much of this may have already been said, but I've been on vacation and I haven't had time to keep up with everything. Here's my thoughts on everything so far.
To agree with much of what I'm going to say here, you've got to agree with one basic premise or assumption: Larry Bird and the Simon's have come together and decided that a “tear it down and rebuild from scratch” model is not in the best interests of the franchise. While many might disagree with their conclusion, it's understandable from both perspectives. The Simons want the Pacers to be a profitable business. They are, first and foremost, businessmen who are highly motivated by profit. Undergoing a long and slow rebuilding process doesn't make sense for a team that had the worst attendance in the NBA while gunning for a playoff spot. From Bird's perspective, rebuilding is always a risky proposition for a GM. Also, he hates to lose. I have no doubt that the last two seasons have been incredibly painful for him.
For those reasons, they decided that the best approach for the Pacers was to be a better team next year than they were this year while trying to build for the future in the process. A “rebuild on the fly”, much like Walsh did in the 90's. The major difference this time is that character will be a primary concern in evaluating players.
With this in mind, we have two questions to answer when evaluating the offseason moves: Will the Pacers be better next year? Has the trade diminished the team's future prospects for success?
Both of those questions can be answered with a resounding yes when evaluating both the Portland and Toronto trades.
1. The Pacers are no longer relying on injury-prone/unreliable players.
For the past two seasons, the Pacers success has been tied to the health and effective play of O'Neal and Tinsley. These two players have proven that this is a bad strategy. Last season JO played in 42 games, and played less than 30 minutes in 23 of those games. Tinsley played in 39 games. Any team in the NBA would be hampered by losing 2 of it's 4 most talented players for at least ½ the season. Since both players have a well-documented history of unreliability, Bird has made an excellent decision in no longer choosing to count on these guys.
O'Neal is off to Toronto and Tinsley appears to be the 4th string PG right now. I don't think there's anyone who expects him to be on the roster at the beginning of the season.
2. The team has improved at 4 positions this offseason.
PG: With the additions of TJ Ford and Jarrett Jack, PG has gone from a position of weakness to a position of strength. It's the strongest group of PG's the Pacers have had since Mark Jackson and Travis Best. Even if TJ Ford misses a few games, which should be expected, Jack has missed only 6 games in 3 seasons. With Ford out, a Jack/Diener backcourt is still a dramatic improvement over what we had last year. Jack is also the exact type of PG that people like Tbird were saying needed to be paired with Ford. He's big, strong, reliable and a good defender. He can hold his own against big PG's like Billups and Deron Williams, and, while he's not nearly as creative as Ford, he's still an asset on the offensive end of the floor.
SG: Brandon Rush is an upgrade over any back-up SG the Pacers played last season. He'll quickly prove to be a more effective player than his brother, Marquis Daniels, and Flip Murray. In addition to Rush, Jack has the ability to play SG if he needs to. At 6'3”, he's a bit undersized, but his strength and defensive intensity generally make up for his lack of height.
SF: While no SF's have been added to the roster, the addition of Rush will likely mean more minutes at the SF position for Dunleavy. Also, Rush is big enough to play SF.
C: The Pacers were a very effective team last year when David Harrison played well. Harrison is likely gone, but Nesterovic and Hibbert will both prove to be more effective players.
O'Neal only played 30.6% of the avaialble minutes at the PF position last season, so his loss shouldn't be too substantial. Also, Troy Murphy is arguably 2nd best PF in the Central division right now, behind only Rasheed Wallace.
Other reasons to like the moves, thoughts on Rush, Hibbert, Bayless, and Diogu:
The perimeter defense will be much, much better with Ford, Jack, and B. Rush.
We won't have to see Daniels, Murray, or Tinsley play PG for the Pacers again.
Troy Murphy will no longer be played as a center.
I really like Brandon Rush. I think he's a good player now who has more development potential than most people expect. I'd compare him to Granger that way. Danny had a fairly well-developed and polished game coming out of college, but his hard work and smarts have helped him to become a better player than most people would have ever projected. Rush has a similar work ethic and intelligence level. I think he could become a Shane Battier type player (or better) who isn't a star but who undoubtedly helps his team win games. One thing that Jonathan Givony pointed out about Rush on the NBATV draft preview show is that he was coming off a knee injury last year and is potentially a more explosive and athletic player than we saw during the season.
I also like Hibbert. I see a lot of Brad Miller in Hibbert. I just hope that he develops Brad's mean streak. Hibbert is a highly skilled player. He's got a good jump shot and is a good passer. His lack of rebounding worries me a bit, but that could be due to the system he played in.
I liked Ike, but apparently Larry and Jim had decided he was never going to amount to anything in this system. If that's so, I'm glad they moved him along.
I was never that impressed by Bayless last season, but I only watched a couple of games. I was excited when we drafted him, but not upset with the trade at all.
I'll end with a couple of guarantees:
- Brandon Rush will be more important to the Pacers in 08-09 than Jerryd Bayless will be to the Blazers.
- Jarrett Jack will be more important to the Pacers in than Ike Diogu will be to the Blazers.