The perception of the Indiana Pacers is that it is one of the more stable teams in the NBA these days. However, the reality is that the franchise is in a considerable state of flux.
Not only has the leadership changed in the past week with Larry Bird stepping down and a combination of Kevin Pritchard (general manager) and Donnie Walsh (team president) now responsible for maintaining the positive momentum of this past season, but nearly half of the 2011-12 team isn’t currently under contract.
The Pacers have eight returning players at the moment and added a couple more in Thursday’s NBA Draft. However, that still leaves five positions that need to be filled over the next few months.
“Donnie and I have had many conversations over the past few days, continuity moving forward with good teams is really important,” Pritchard said. “We want to keep some of the same guys because for whatever reason, they learn each other better. If you look at some of the elite teams, they stay together.”
Indiana’s starting center (Roy Hibbert) and part-time starting guard (George Hill) are both restricted free agents that can field offers from other teams. However, Pritchard made it clear at a news conference on Friday that he wants both players to return.
“We still have work to do to retain Hibbert and Hill,” Pritchard said. “We’re going to work our tail off. We’re going to get those guys done.”
It is hard to fathom the Pacers allowing Hibbert to leave. The 25-year-old averaged nearly a double-double and is as quality of a person and representative of the franchise off of the floor as on it. Who gives Hibbert a breather may have been settled on Thursday with the selection of 6-foot-10 center Miles Plumlee out of Duke, who Pritchard believes can be a serviceable reserve for many years to come.
“You have to understand what your organization is about,” Pritchard said. “We’re a smash-mouth team. We find hard-working guys that play smart and play together (and Plumlee) is exactly that.”
In the backcourt, with Hill’s status up in the air and veterans Leandro Barbosa and A.J. Price no longer under contract, Indiana added 6-foot-5 shooter Orlando Johnson in the second round when they made a trade with Sacramento.
The Pacers didn’t have a second round pick this year to send to the Kings, so they sent cash, which made an impression with Pritchard.
“Our owner (Herb Simon) is unbelievably committed to winning,” Pritchard said. “He proved it. We saw another player (Johnson) in this draft and we were able to go get him.”
It is still possible to bolster the front court by bringing back reserves Kyrylo Fesenko (7-1 center) and Lou Amundson (6-9 forward) and such moves would follow the philosophy that Walsh and Pritchard have deemed vitally important to sustaining this recent level of success.
“When you talk about free agents, the number one priority of teams that have had a good year is to try and retain your own players,” Walsh said. “That will be our priority and then we’ll try to add from that point on.”
Who will play and how much?
Probable front court rotation:
Roy Hibbert and David West will start, while Tyler Hansbrough will get significant minutes. The trio of Jeff Pendergraph, Lou Amundson and Mile Plumlee will battle for the approximate remaining 10 minutes of playing time.
Probable perimeter rotation:
Darren Collison, Paul George and Danny Granger will start, while George Hill will get significant minutes. If Dahntay Jones is still on the team (I’m hearing they may move him in the final year of his deal) he’ll compete for some minutes, while Indiana fans still wonder if Larry Bird’s fascination with Lance Stephenson was anything more than a man-crush. Orlando Johnson will battle Jones and Stephenson for sparing minutes off of the bench.