Hope Is Alive In Indy
The Pacers are finally ready to move on.
by Quinn Peterson
To be completely honest, this is the one of the last articles I ever expected to be writing — especially this soon.
As a Pacers fan (one of the only ones I know of living outside of Indy), I saw myself writing something about how Ron Artest is the reason my favorite franchise will never be relevant again, or how Larry Bird should be on the hot seat for his hand in driving the Pacers into oblivion.
But in fact, the case is just the opposite. A couple solid draft picks and one quality trade later, and the Pacers are moving the right direction like they’re Robert Randolph’s family band.
After having their hearts ripped out by Mike in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, and hopes dashed again by Phil, Shaq and Kobe in 2000, the ’04-05 season seemed like “the year.” And it was. That Pacers squad was absolutely loaded with Reggie, Ron, Jermaine O’Neal, Stephen Jackson, etc.
If you recall, Indy was handily beating Detroit on that November night in 2004, and I still believe that had the Malice at the Palace not broken out, they would have won the championship that year. Unfortunately, it all went down the drain when Ron Artest turned into Rocky Balboa, and since that day, life for Pacers fans has been brutal.
A combination of injuries, poor draft choices and trades, and a need to restore the team’s image have all depleted the Pacers’ roster and crippled strides toward improvement. In less than a decade, the best player in franchise history retired; O’Neal, Artest, Jackson and Al Harrington have all been shipped away along with every other player from the ’04-05 not named Jeff Foster; Peja Stojakovic, Rasho Nesterovic, Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, TJ Ford and others have come in return. Not terrible players, but certainly no one to build a franchise around.
Jamaal Tinsley fell off harder than a Bad Boy recording artist, and, their draft history has left much to be desired, as none of their draft picks between ’03 and ’07, save Danny Granger, are still with the team. There was even speculation that Bird, President of Basketball Operations, was scheming to “white-out” the Pacers after he consistently drafted low-quality, white American-born players. They’ve finished at or below .500 for five straight seasons.
While they’ve routinely found themselves in the lottery, Bird has quietly assembled a formidable young core, including Dunleavy, Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, Brandon Rush, Josh McRoberts and Dahntay Jones. Though some pieces were in place, they were a far cry from beginning to put the puzzle together.
“We think that we have put together some good young players, led by Danny Granger, Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert,” said head coach Jim O’Brien at the end of last season. “You put all those things together, there’s no reason why we can’t take a nice full step forward next year.”
It’s no secret that Granger is the man, and for several years, he’s been the only thing to look forward to. And fortunately for Indy, the phenomenal scorer whom some have likened to a mini-Kevin Durant (a comparison I love), the Team USA member has already inked his extension.
What O’Brien failed to acknowledge was the fact that the Pacers, as they were, still stood no chance despite having some solid young talent. If it was simply about that, the Clippers would have more rings than the Lakers.
But finally, there is hope! (Of course, as I write this Lance Stephenson is in the middle of another run-in with the law. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that all gets worked out.)
For the first time, the Pacers came away with not one, but two quality picks on draft night. And for the first time, it appears to be guys who can contribute immediately and for the long-term. Athletic two-guard Paul George, and troubled but talented combo guard, Stephenson, both had strong summer leagues and both will be key to the Pacers’ future.
Equally, if not more, importantly, was their involvement in last week’s four-team trade, that saw the Pacers address their two most dire needs — a PG and a vet. The former came in the form of Darren Collison who looked tremendous last year, shocking the world to the tune of 12 points and 6 dimes (18.8 and 9.1 as the starter with CP3 out). The latter was James Posey, the defender, three-point marksman, and savvy veteran who really needs no introduction. Losing Troy Murphy hurt, but the pros outweigh the cons here.
Not to mention, they have more than $25 million coming off the books at the end of the year in Dunleavy, Ford and Foster.
Now you’re talking, and things are starting to come together. If Granger can stay healthy, Collison can continue what he started in NO, the youngn’s can continue to progress, and Born Ready can manage to stay on the straight and narrow, Indy will be well on it’s way. I know, a lot of if’s, but there’s even more hope.
And according to Bird and Granger, there’s still moves to be made. “We’re not good enough right now,” said Bird. “So we have to take a hard look and see where we’re at. If there’s some opportunity, we’re going to be involved in it.”
“We’re definitely going to have to add another big, and I think that will be our main focus,” said Granger.
Being a contender in the next year or two (or three or four or five) couldn’t bit of a stretch, but sneaking into one of those last two or three spots isn’t.
And, as Bob Kravitz of the Indy Star put it, “Larry Bird might have just saved his job,” and it appears as though the Pacers are finally ready and in a position to move on from that infamous night in Detroit in 2004.
For the first time since Reggie Miller donned a uni, Pacers fans can proudly come out of hiding. Hope is here!