By: Bob Kravitz
April 12, 2009
For next year, Pacers need some nastiness
You have questions about the Indiana Pacers' direction this offseason. We have answers.
Where do the Pacers look in the NBA draft?
Let's assume they aren't going to make any lottery magic, although they've certainly been due since the Patrick Ewing draft. Their biggest need -- and stop me when this gets too obvious -- is at the power forward spot. Not that Troy Murphy hasn't had a tremendous season, but the Pacers need a big, long, disagreeable human being who will guard the paint like fine china. Think in terms of a younger Jeff Foster, but with much better low-post skills.
Murphy is offensively tailor-made for Jim O'Brien's system, but Murphy and Roy Hibbert together are a slow-footed defensive nightmare.
"We need an athletic big who has a little bit of nastiness offensively and defensively within 10 feet of the basket,'' O'Brien said before Saturday's game against the Detroit Pistons. "That would be our top priority.''
Of course, there aren't a lot of those kinds of players in this draft. Blake Griffin surely will go first. Then there are names like Arizona's Jordan Hill, Kentucky's Patrick Patterson and my early favorite, Pitt's DeJuan Blair.
"We could try to get that player in a number of ways,'' O'Brien said. "We've got a little bit of money to work with. There are trade possibilities. The problem is, if it's a rookie, it's a rookie. To ask a rookie to be that tough, nasty hombre inside, that's a lot to ask.''
If the power forward the Pacers want isn't available when they pick, they won't hesitate to jump on the point guard of the future. How does Ty Lawson of North Carolina sound? Or Memphis' Tyreke Evans?
Just because the Pacers have T.J. Ford returning and are likely to re-sign restricted free agent Jarrett Jack doesn't mean they won't grab a point guard who can take them beyond sub-.500 purgatory in the future.
"Absolutely, point guard would be the other area we would take a strong look at,'' O'Brien said. "If you could find somebody who, in three years, could be a starter on a team that contends in the Eastern Conference, then you go for it.''
Speaking of point guards . . . who's the Pacers' point guard next season?
My sense is, in O'Brien's perfect world, Ford rebounds from his late-season demotion to the bench and wins back the starting job next fall. That gives the coach the option of using Jack as a backup at both the point and the two-guard spots, or even lets him use the two together in smaller lineups.
Ford hasn't exactly been a total disappointment, but he hasn't been a revelation, either. He still pounds the ball too much, still gets stuck in the lane too often with no place to go.
Either way, the Pacers are in a far better place than they were a year ago. Last year, they had nobody at the point; next year, they might have two solid pros competing for the spot.
So who will be playing his last game as a Pacer on Wednesday night?
No surprises. Rasho Nesterovic was brought here for his expiring, $8.4 million contract. He's a goner. Marquis Daniels, who is too injury-prone, will not be retained after making $6.8 this past season. Eddie Jones' $2 million comes off the cap. And the Pacers will get some cash and cap relief the longer Mike Dunleavy remains out of commission, once the insurance payoff kicks in.
If you include Jamaal Tinsley's $7.2 million and the rookie contracts, it's safe to figure the Pacers will have about $8 to $10 million and change to use during the offseason. It's not a ton of money, and the Pacers figure to spend some of it to keep Jack, but it's more than they've had in recent years when they were chained to Jermaine O'Neal's deal.
(If you hear whimpering, that's Larry Bird, still crying about the Tinsley-to-Orlando deal that blew up 10 minutes short of the trade deadline.)
"We're going to have more flexibility than we've had in a long time,'' said Pacers general manager David Morway.
That's the good news. The bad news is, they're still going to carry around $16 million in dead money on their payroll. That's $7.2 million on Tinsley and $9.7 million on Dunleavy, who won't be back any time soon. There's no margin for error in the draft or when signing free agents, not now.
The bottom line is, if the Pacers are going to take that next step, Bird has to hit some home runs. No more Shawne Williams drafts on his watch. (Anybody know what's happened to Stanko Barac?)
How far away are the Pacers from making the playoffs?
Not far at all. Especially not in the East, where sub-.500 will get you to the postseason.
How far away are the Pacers from being real contenders?
Three years, minimum. And maybe longer given the contracts of Dunleavy and Tinsley. Bird still has one of the toughest rebuilding jobs in the NBA. This won't be fixed any time soon.