Tomorrow night’s NBA Draft will mark the next chapter in the rebuilding of the Indiana Pacers franchise. While many are waiting to see who Larry Bird decides to draft, I will be watching and waiting for a deal.
Make no mistake about it, this will be Indiana’s most important summer since 1993. They finally have salary cap flexibility, something that Larry Bird and David Morway have worked extremely hard for. Now they have a chance to change the face and the direction of this franchise.
Draft day deals are definitely in play for a franchise that is this far under the salary cap. If they can package their first round pick (15th overall) and add a player, they will (and should) pull the trigger.
If they end up keeping their pick, it looks like Marshon Brooks (Providence) could be the player the settle on. He's not a bad player, but he likely will not be a starter in this league, especially his first few years. Bird said he has his eye on four players and expects at least two of them to be available when the Pacers select.
Larry said their spot and the available talent dictate taking the best player available, regardless of position. Often criticized, Bird's draft history is hit or miss, but if you really examine the last handful of years, the truth is he has done a pretty solid job given the fact he has selected in the middle of the first round every year.
Back in 2004 he took David Harrison with the 29th pick. While he never worked out, the best players chosen behind him were Anderson Varejao and Trevor Ariza. The next year they took Danny Granger 17th overall.
Shawne Williams was the pick in 2006 that really hurt them. He was incredibly immature and had multiple problems off the court. What hurts even more is that Rajon Rondo was still available at the time they chose Williams. Their second round pick that year, James White, never got out of training camp.
Things began to get better in 2008 though, as Bird found a way to dump Jermaine O'Neal's salary and drafted Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert. Rush hasn't become what many of us thought he would, but the only three noteworthy players taken after him were Marreese Speights, Serge Ibaka and hometown product George Hill.
In 2009, he made an interesting pick with the selection of Tyler Hansbrough. They passed up on some good point guards that year, but eventually made a deal for Darren Collison without giving up much in return. In last year’s draft, he took Paul George at number 10, a player I strongly believe will be an All-Star in the future. The best players chosen behind him were Greivis Vasquez and Landry Fields.
This draft, though, isn't going to be the thing that makes Indiana a contender. It will be the deals and the free agent moves that decide that. I don’t expect a lot of movement from the team via free agency, although there are some nice pieces they could go after, like David West, Tyson Chandler and Nene.
The Pacers are one of a few teams in the league that are under the salary cap, which will allow them to make one-sided deals where they can take on more salary than they give. It looks like the cap will decrease this summer too, which means even more teams will become extremely desperate to shed salary.
Since the lockout is likely to begin one week after the draft, teams will likely want to do as much trading as possible. That is why I wouldn’t be surprised to see some players moved tomorrow night during the draft. For teams like Indiana, this could be a big night.