Where We've Been and Where We NEED to Be.
Go back in time with me to this point in the 2014 season. The Pacers were coming off their first Eastern Conference finals appearance in nine years. A starting five led by veterans George Hill and David West, an elite paint protector in Roy Hibbert, a budding basket case, Lance Stephenson, and the emergence of the young rising superstar Paul George. A team that was sure to give Cleveland a run for its money for the battle of the East, looked to expand their depth with what seemed like an absolute future success in Evan Turner and LaVoy Allen. Where did it go wrong? Where did the team that looked like the future of the Eastern Conference turn into a team fighting for the sixth seed in a very weak Eastern Conference?
I can tell you the exact date, February 20, 2014. Danny Granger (now operating successfully in a sixth man role), the predecessor of Paul George, the vocal leader and glue of a very unique team, was traded to the 76ers. With his exit, the mantle was believed to be passed to George, but was it really? NO. It was left to David West and George Hill, who at their best and in their respective primes, have never been more than role players. The result was a total collapse of what looked like the new dynasty. Later that season we would see Roy Hibbert go from a double-double to a double-nickle. During the Playoffs he seemed almost non-existent.
However it didn't seem to make too great of a difference to the team. Paul George solidified his dominance as a go to scorer and elite level defender against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Not only was there a new superstar coming on the scene, Lance Stephenson showed that he wasn't just a basket case, but a great number two to George, and possibly a rising star in his own right. Unfortunately, nothing came to fruition, the Pacers fell to the Heat losing 4-2 in the final Eastern Conference appearance to date. Where does this lead us? The summer of 2014, the off-season of shattered dreams, as I prefer to call it.
Two back to back Eastern Conference Final appearances, falling just shy to a team that would claim the 2014 title. Many Pacers fans looked forward to this off-season. We would get rid of a failed experiment in Evan Turner, resign Lance Stephenson to a contract keeping him in Indiana long term, and hopefully be able to bring in a legitimate point guard (like Isaiah Thomas or Shaun Livingston). PG-13, as he became known after changing his number, was going to be playing with the U.S. Men's National team through the summer for the world championship. Everything was looking great for the Indiana Pacers, but oh were the fans wrong. We would turn around and offer Lance a dismal contract of $44 million over five years, which he had to have laughed at, after out rebounding the teams starting Center, leading the team in assists, and just being a flat out stud.
When he turned down the offer, there was still hope that we could get him to stay, but we didn't even make the effort. Instead we picked up C.J. Miles, Damjan Rudez, and Shayne Whittington, and re-signed Lavoy Allen. Notice all of which were big men, which is exactly what we didn't need. Lance left for greener pastures. We then turned our focus to building everything around PG. Talk about crashing and burning. If you are any kind of basketball fan at all, then you remember what came next, the devastating leg injury of our super star. Everyone in the Blue and Gold country saw our bright future fade in mere seconds.
Fast forward two and half years George is back and fully healthy about to have his fourth All-Star appearance, C.J. Miles is a starter and Lavoy Allen is finally playing a solid role off the bench. Yet, the team as a whole is still in shambles. We have acquired a two great pieces in Myles Turner and Jeff Teague. Now Turner is just 20 years old, but is easily our second best option offensively (15.6 PPG with thirteen 20+ games) and a premier interior defending rebound machine (2.1BLKPG, 7.2 RPG, and 0.8 STLPG). Teague is a good offensive threat this season putting up great numbers (15.6 PPG and 8.2 APG) however he seems to get a "Westbrook Mentality" in game on the line situations. HE IS NOT WESTBROOK. These two along with George seem to be the core we plan to build around. Yet as this season has made abundantly clear, they are not enough.
This off-season we have (what I believe) our last chance to build a team around Paul George. To start off, Bird should start heavily shopping Monta Ellis, who has not been the dynamic scorer he was in Dallas. Overall he has been great for us off the bench, but he's not the type of player the Pacers offense is lacking. He is a strong, drive the lane guard, but we already have that in Teague. Ellis would be a great trade piece for any team looking a drive and kick guard. Then there's Big Al Jefferson, who is the typical $11 million a year Pacers back-up center. He is everything the Pacers are looking to get away from, a slow moving, post player. He is slow on the defensive end, and lacks range outside of ten feet from the rim. A team looking to play an old school style might benefit from acquiring the 32 year old big man. Besides moving these two, this summer needs to be the year of the Pacers making a splash in the free agent market. Below are the transactions and signs we need to make:
-Trading Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson to the Orlando Magic for Nikola Vucevic, Mario Hezonja, and Damjan Rudez (Fan Favorite). Great bench and role players.
-Monta Ellis and future picks to Cleveland Cavaliers for Iman Shumpert. Perfect D and three guy for the Pacers starting rotation.
-Signing Blake Griffin to a max deal, great pairing with Myles Turner. Adds Star power and scoring to Pacers roster alongside George.
-Signing J.J. Reddick to a 2 - year $12 million deal. Great Sharp shooter, Pacers need someone designated to the three ball.