This afternoon I continue the series I started last week about some of the looming key decisions our Pacers must make during the spring and summer of 2009. Part 1 considered the the debate between TJ Ford and Jarrett Jack, and the factors that will be considered when the Pacers front office makes its plans for the point guard position in 2009.
Today I want to look at our inside players, and discuss the process of adding the type of big players we think we need.
It is an almost universal belief, and one that I share personally, that to truly make a significant jump in results that we will need to add some athleticism, toughness, defense, and back to the basket scoring to our inside rotation of players. With our team defense being particularly porous this season, having someone inside who can play all around solid defense in the paint next season is imperative if we want to see our record improve.
I don't think anyone would, in general dispute, that last paragraph.
Many years ago, when faced with a similar problem in how our roster was built, Pacers GM at the time Donnie Walsh selected a big bruising kid out of Clemson, 6'11'' Dale Davis. Davis turned out to be the perfect fit for the roster that existed alongside him. His defense and rebounding complemented Rik Smits, his outstanding screen-setting helped free Reggie Miller, and his intimidation and toughness set the tone for our entire roster for years into the future. His ability to be able to step out hard on the screen/roll helped Mark Jackson and Travis Best recover to their men, and his size and strength enabled him to be able to play along side a smaller Antonio Davis without us giving up much at all when we substituted.
While not the same exact type of player, many of the Pacers problems could be solved if they could get lottery lucky and be able to draft Blake Griffen, who is probably a better athlete and player than Davis was, especially offensively.
But it is unlikely we get that fortunate as to get the first overall pick. ANd with my draft research being partially done, I already can see a major problem developing.....to paraphrase Rick Pitino, "Dale Davis isn't walking through that door."
So the second big question I see for the Pacers to try and solve is this:
IF THE BIGGER, ATHLETIC INSIDE PLAYER THE PACERS TRULY NEED ISN'T AVAILABLE IN THIS DRAFT, WHAT DO WE DO?
As I see it, here are our choices:
A. We could draft a lesser prospect as an inside player, perhaps someone who is slightly undersized, and try and get by. We could do this even though there isn't truly a big player we actually are all that excited about, just because our need is so acute. In this scenario I am assuming that the Pacers indeed do not find a player they love as an inside presence in this draft, but take one anyway due to need.
B. We could take the money we have available to try and sign a free agent, probably instead of spending it on re-signing Jarrett Jack. We know from the first thread in this series that almost everyone is adamant about bringing Jarrett Jack back, even though I personally don't think it is realistically the smartest long term move.
C. We could try and trade a remaining asset to another team and try to acquire our power player. As I see it, our current available assets could include Jeff Foster (a fan favorite who does make our team better when he is on the floor, but who also is declining, aging, and becoming injury prone and rather expensive in this current NBA economy), TJ Ford (who is tradeable but expensive, and in fact due to his contract you'll likely need to bring back both a young power forward you want plus at least one contract you'd rather not have), a signed and trade deal involving Jarrett Jack ( a scenario I favor and think is likely, but I am the only one who thinks so in the world apparently). In some sort of unlikely blockbuster money type deal, I suppose we could trade Troy Murphy, who will never be more tradeable than he is right now perhaps, coming off a career year. Any of these moves is likely to be close to money-nuetral, theoretically either letting us sign another cheaper free agent or drop our overall payroll expense for 2009-2010.
D. We could just draft the best player on the board regardless of position, sign only cheap bigger free agents, and basically stay just as weak inside next year as we were this year, while we bide our time, save our money, and see who comes available later on. This almost assures us of not making the playoffs in 2009-2010, but it also keeps us from committing out of desperation to a move we may regret later.
The first choice, option "A", is the simplest and cleanest. Draft somebody you are lukewarm on and try and sell the choice to your fan base, who already knows you need a power player anyway. Maybe this player ends up being a solid bench player long term, or maybe you get really lucky and he ends up being better than any of us (or even yourself perhaps) thinks they will be. Even if this player ends up being just a mediocre player, he at least probably is an upgrade over what we have now, even if he isn't the long term type player we need.
Of course this is the problem: Outside of Blake Griffen, there isn't a single "power player" in this draft that I think projects even as an NBA starter, with the possible exception of one prospect I am reviewing that I won't name quite yet, as I am still studying him. More than likely, whichever big player you select won't help you hardly at all next year, because there is just a lack of talent and size that we need among all these power prospects.
The last choice, option "D", means you probably end up with a better player from this years draft, as you took the best player available to you when you picked this year, and you'll likely be in the lottery again next year too. It also means you are basically conceding the next season before it starts, or hoping just to try and patch work your way again in the paint this year. This would be an example of playing McRoberts significantly more minutes, and perhaps signing a veteran free agent for the vet minimum to round out the roster. Next year after the season you can try again to solve your power player shortage with another year of perspective under your belt.
This will probably be hard to sell to your fan base however, and it will be hard to sell to the guys you are hoping buy season ticket packages, luxury suites, and sponsorships at Conseco. It would be a clear sign you are hoarding money and likely are ok with missing the playoffs for the 4th straight year.
Ok, so let's assume that both scenario "A" and "D" aren't the smartest way to go, just for arguments sake. That would mean that the following statement is true I believe: "THE POWER PLAYER/INSIDE ATHLETIC PLAYER WE NEED IS ALREADY CURRENTLY PLAYING IN THE LEAGUE"!
Assuming that (and I DO believe that is a true statement), let me name some criteria I think we need to establish for any big player we bring in.
1. Younger, athletic, with ideal size and body type. Potential to improve.
2. No baggage, good guy off the floor and in the community.
3. Needs to be able to play both alongside Hibbert AND Murphy (unless in the unlikely event you trade Murphy to get this player in the first place)
4. Can't be so costly moneywise that it makes no sense or requires us to trade the farm to get him.
5. If it is a free agent, all we can realistically offer is the MLE at the very very most, and perhaps not even that, unless we do it in a sign and trade type of deal.
Just for fun, I compiled a list of names of various "bigs" in the league who we might consider. I am not going to rank them in anyway, and I am going to include some that I personally don't even like for us, just because I think they fit the profile somewhat. Feel free to comment or add to the list. Before you reply, yes I know that many of these players may not even be available at all, it is just a starting list of names!
-Tyson Chandler (would need to include Murphy due to salary cap rules because Chandler is so expensive)
-Marreese Speights (you all knew I would include him)
I am sure there are others I have forgotten to list. I tried to list guys with significant size in either height or strength that would enable them to play with both Hibbert and Murphy, which means they would need to be able to guard the opponents biggest player at times (since Murphy cannot).
With such a glaring need for at least one and perhaps more athletic inside players for next year's roster, how the Pacers choose to go about trying to fill that specific need will be very very interesting. It will be even more fascinating if they decide like I basically have that the player we need is undraftable, because other than Blake Griffen he probably doesn't exist in this years draft class.
I'd look for the Pacers to make at least one pretty aggressive, perhaps controversial trade for a bigger player this offseason, probably near the draft.
As always, the above is just my opinion.