Every year it's the same thing for Indiana—it seems like they either just barely make the playoffs and lose in the first round, or they fall just short enough to have almost zero shot at winning a top three pick in the lottery.
On the bright side, the team finally has an undeniable leader in Danny Granger, who finished among the league's top five scorers last year, and they've got a couple of solid sophomores returning next season in Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert. T.J. Ford had one of his healthiest seasons in years, and who knows how things may have turned out differently for them had Mike Dunleavy, Jr. been healthy.
The Pacers have a lot of money tied up in their current rotation, but they still have to find some way to fill a few major needs. Perhaps the most glaring of those needs is a backup point guard (assuming, that is, the Jamaal Tinsley situation remains unresolved), but there's also a need for some depth in the frontcourt. A lottery pick will help them fill one of those holes, but limited funds in free agency will have to take care of the rest.
Immediate Needs in the Draft
At pick #13 there's a strong possibility that Indiana trips and falls into a really talented player who slides right to them. How do you think they ended up with Danny Granger? The only question is whether that player will fill one of their needs.
Maybe the strongest candidates to tumble down to the Pacers' pick are Jrue Holiday and Brandon Jennings. It's not likely that they'll have their choice of the two necessarily, but it's not outrageous to think one of them could fall. Either guy could step in as a backup point guard to Ford, and since both young guards are considered projects it could be beneficial to bring them along slowly. Whether it be Holiday or Jennings, picking one of those two would make draft night a huge success for the Pacers.
But what if neither of those guys is available? What's Plan C? Considering the talent that will still be on the board there it's still most likely the Pacers draft a point guard. The list will be pretty extensive for them—Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor—while the market for a frontcourt player in that 12-15 range is quite a bit lighter. B.J. Mullens is an intriguing prospect but Roy Hibbert is the clear center of the future. All that really leaves are DeJuan Blair and Tyler Hansbrough, and both guys have their fair share of concerns. Maybe they can reach for a big guy with their second round pick (52nd overall), but nobody expects much to come from there.
Immediate Needs in Free Agency
When it comes to the Indiana Pacers and free agency, don't expect much. They're already knocking on $58 million in salary for the 2009-2010 season (expected to be right around the salary cap) thanks in large part to the albatross contracts of Troy Murphy ($23 million over the next two season) and Mike Dunleavy ($21 million over the next two seasons). That significantly hinders any hopes they may have at making a serious splash in free agency.
Rasho Nesterovic, Stephen Graham, and Maceo Baston are likely gone, and Josh McRoberts and Jarrett Jack are restricted free agents as well, though they're committed to re-signing both. Not including Marquis Daniels's team option for over $7 million, that puts only eight guys under contract for next year. There's a lot of work to do and not a lot of money to do it with. Unless they're able to move Murphy, Dunleavy, Jeff Foster, or (fingers crossed!) Tinsley, the Pacers are kind of locked into what they've got.
That's why so much rides on this year's lottery pick. They need more than ever for a great talent to slide to #13. If there's no luck on that front, it might be a long, long couple of seasons for Indiana.