On one of the best draft nights in recent Indiana Pacers draft history, the local team didn't get a single draft choice.
They did a whole lot better than that.
They got George Hill, who not only makes them exponentially better right away and for the near future, but they got a local kid who will put fannies in the Conseco Fieldhouse seats.
From Broad Ripple to IUPUI to the Indiana Pacers.
How's that for Draft Night 2011?
One minute, the massive crowd at the fieldhouse was muttering, asking, "Who's Kawhi Leonard, why did the Pacers pick Kawhi Leonard and why should we care so much about the size of his hands?'' (Although, in fairness, we heard the same muted reaction when the Pacers took Paul George.)
Then the word of a trade began to sweep through the place, one tweet and whisper at a time. Less than two minutes after the selection, fans were buzzing, having learned that Pacers president Larry Bird had pulled off the Hill deal. Then, when ESPN reported the trade -- a middling first-rounder, a second-rounder and the rights to Erazem Lorbek for Hill -- the place went nuts.
For good reason.
Hill isn't a terrific pickup simply because he's a local guy, although that isn't going to hurt any at the box office. (Think owner Herb Simon was loving this move?) Hill is a terrific pickup because he's a proven commodity, an established, grown-up, NBA guard entering his fourth season who can play the point and the two-guard. He makes the Pacers bigger and deeper and more formidable in every conceivable way, leaving absolutely no reason this team shouldn't be better than .500 next season and for years to come.
Look at it this way: Indiana picked up a top-of-the-rotation player for a draft choice that history suggests is rarely any good. There have been a couple of productive No. 15 choices, the best being Steve Nash, with Al Jefferson a very distant second. But more often, you're looking at Eric Piatkowski, Frederick Weis and Todd Lichti. And this was a weak draft.
How does Hill fit and where?
Don't sweat it.
When you win 37 games, you need terrific basketball players, and you need them at every position.
Hill will play the point, maybe starting instead of Darren Collison, maybe backing him up.
Hill can play the off-guard position, maybe starting in place of George, maybe sharing time.
Hill can play alongside Collison when the Pacers want to go small -- really small.
(And farewell, Brandon Rush. Nice knowing you. The Pacers didn't deal the now-expendable Rush on draft night, but he clearly doesn't have a place, or a future, in Indianapolis.)
The Hill acquisition should serve another purpose, and that's to light a fire under Lance "The Best Player On Our Team'' Stephenson. Born Ready needs to grow up and grow up quickly, or he's going to spend another season as Born To Be On The Inactive List Every Night.
Bird hasn't made a lot of huge trades during his tenure -- he has been hamstrung by all the onerous contracts still on the books -- but he has slowly made things happen.
On Draft Day 2008, he dumped Jermaine O'Neal's cap-eating contract for the chance to draft Roy Hibbert. (A good deal, by almost any measure.)
On Draft Day 2009, he got Jarrett Jack, Josh McRoberts and the chance to draft Rush for Ike Diogu and draftee Jerryd Bayless. (No harm, no foul. It's not like they gave up anything.)
Last summer, Bird fleeced the New Orleans Hornets by getting Collison and James Posey while shedding Troy Murphy. (A brilliant trade.)
And now this -- Hill for a couple of draft choices.
Granted, they still haven't addressed the team's need for more size and length on the interior, but the summer is young. There is still free agency. And there are still plenty of trades, especially with so many teams endeavoring to dump salary.
The Hill acquisition wasn't the only big news of the night.
Earlier in the evening, sources told The Star's Mike Wells that Brian Shaw, the longtime Lakers assistant who was once viewed as Phil Jackson's heir apparent, will be hired as Frank Vogel's associate head coach.
Shaw fits the profile perfectly. At 45, he's older than Vogel, he's a longtime NBA player who can relate to current players, and he earned three championship rings.
Shaquille O'Neal once told the Miami Herald the player he respected most was Shaw. There's also the connection to Bird, with whom he played three seasons in Boston.
At season's end, Bird made it clear he wasn't happy with some of the things that happened late in the year under Vogel. The team played better, but the atmosphere became a bit too casual for his taste. It's why he wanted Vogel to add experience and pedigree to his staff, and with Shaw, it's mission accomplished.
A good night. A big night. The corner has been turned.
I won't even ruin the good feelings by mentioning the impending lockout.