Do you remember when the Pacers signed 6'10" big man Solomon Jones from Atlanta and everybody was wondering whether he'd blossom into a star? Well, the experiment is well and truly over, and it's an epic fail. For whatever reason, Solo's career never took off. He'd show glimpses of solid play but for the most part he barely even got off the bench this season.
Solo played in just 39 games in his fifth season, averaging 13.5 minutes, 3.6 points and 2.9 rebounds and 2.41 fouls. For a big man, Solo was horrible from the field, shooting an inexcusable 0.405. He missed open jumpers, putbacks, layups. Instead of playing himself into the rotation, Solo played himself out of it. As a result, he didn't even play a single minute in the playoffs.
To be fair, Solo had some decent moments, but that's what they were: moments. He rarely put together a good game from start to finish. It must have been frustrating for the Pacers staff, who believed he had so much promise and potential, but Solo never established a niche for himself in the league. Unless you consider an 'emergency backup' a niche.
Fortunately for the Pacers, they didn't break the bank for Solo, who only made $1.5 this season. The most disappointing thing about Solo is that he didn't improve his game like we thought he would. I don't think a stint in the D-League will do him much good. Solo's best bet is a bigger role with an overseas league.
The biggest hole on the Indiana Pacers roster at the moment is the power forward position. Tyler Hansbrough showed that he can be a solid player at that spot, but most believe he is better suited to coming off the bench as an energy guy, and in any case, the Pacers are somewhat thin up front right now with Josh McRoberts a potential departee due to free agency and Jeff Foster and Solomon Jones coming off contract (Foster could be back but he's getting old and there's almost zero chance of Solo being re-signed).
And now, David West, a former All-Star who played solidly for the New Orleans Hornets last season, averaging 18.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game until be blew out his ACL in March, has announced that he will test the free agent market this ofseason -- and reports indicate that Indiana could very well be a potential destination for him.
What are the chances West will join the Pacers?
But is it realistic to assume that West would consider the Pacers? West has not ruled out heading back to New Orleans, but he hasn't signed an extension either because he believes he could be worth more money on the open market (he earned around $8.2 million this past season). And the Pacers are one of the few teams with the cap space to overpay him -- and let's face it, the Pacers will have to overpay to bring in any big name free agent.
The other team vying for West's services is the New Jersey Nets, who should be considered the early favorite because West grew up in New Jersey and the Nets have a superstar point guard in Deron Williams and a solid big man in Brook Lopez. Furthermore, New Orleans has always said that they would like to keep West and he has not ruled that out.
That said, the Pacers do have a chance. New Jersey is indeed a more enticing destination as far as market size goes but they only won 24 games last season whereas the Pacers made the playoffs. The Nets do have Williams and Lopez but the Pacers do have the better young pieces in Granger, Hibbert, Collison, Paul George, Tyler Hansbrough and George Hill. On top of that, Collison played with West in New Orleans, so there is that added familiarity. As for New Orleans, with Chris Paul looking more and more likely to bolt after next season, there might not be an incentive to stay around.
West himself has suggested that financial considerations will drive his decision, which is a good sign for Indiana.
Would West be worth it?
Getting West would be huge for the Pacers. He won't necessarily be the Batman to Danny Granger's Robin, but he would certainly be option A1, and with Roy Hibbert in the middle, the Pacers would have a very formidable front court. All three would be a threat to score, especially from mid-range. He would also add that much needed post presence the Pacers lack at the moment (Hibbert being the only legit post threat on the team right now). On paper, he would definitely be the big name addition the Pacers need to take them to the next level.
On the flip side, West is 30 years old, and could be entering a decline in his career. More importantly, ACL injuries are serious and there are question marks over whether West would be as effective as he was. Then again, it has been reported that West has been rehabbing hard and doctors believe he will be 100% recovered by November 1st.
A further concern regarding West is that he is somewhat undersized at power forward at only 6'9", and while he is a solid defender at that position he is not a great defender, shot blocker or rebounder. Given the Pacers' defensive woes, would they be better off getting a bigger four that is more rebounding and defensive-minded?
I still say the Pacers should go for it if they can. It's not every day that a former All-Star still arguably in his prime would even consider going to Indiana. And the Pacers have shown that the need consistenyt scoring badly. Granger included, there isn't a single player on the roster capable of putting up solid numbers every night. The Pacers cleared their cap space for this very purpose -- signing a marquee free agent that can take them to the next level. Not sure if David West is that guy but he might be the best that the Pacers can hope for.
Carl Landry also possible
It has also been reported that fellow New Orleans Hornet Carl Landry (also a free agent) is on the Pacers' radar. Landry is an even more undersized PF at 6'8", but he is a strong stud who is 3 years younger than West -- and he will be significantly cheaper (he earned $3 million last season).
Landry averaged 11.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game last season for Sacramento and New Orleans, and upped those numbers to 15.8 and 5 in the playoffs with West out.
Would Landry be a better fit for the Pacers? Not necessarily. He's might hustle harder than West but West is the better player in most facets of the game, at least for now.
At the end of the day, adding either player would make the Pacers a contender, but it would certainly make them a lot better. And for now, that's all you could really ask for.
I like Dahntay Jones. He's a professional, he plays hard and he plays D. And he can score better than most people give him credit for. But at the end of the day, he's not a key player for the Indiana Pacers going forward. Jones is owned $2.7 million next season and he has a player option worth $2.9 million for the season after that, which he is almost certain to exercise. In other words, unless the Pacers trade him (very possible), Jones will be a Pacer until at least the end of the 2012-2012 season.
Thanks to former head coach Jim O'Brien, Jones fell out of the Pacers rotation early in the season, playing one game then sitting out a few, playing 20 minutes one night and 4 the next. Typical O'Brien. As a result, Jones played had only played 10 games up until February 2011. When Frank Vogel took over, Jones started getting more regular minutes as a reserve, and he was solid but not producing much on the offensive end.
For the season, Jones played in 45 games, starting in just 2, and averaged 13.1 minutes, 6.3 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.7 assists. To put those numbers in perspective, Jones played in 76 games last season, starting in 26, and averaged 24.9 minutes, 10.2 rebounds and 3 rebounds and 2 assists. A big step back but not entirely Jones's fault. What was Jones's fault was his tendency to get a little trigger happy when he received some rare minutes. Perhaps in an attempt to bolster his playing time, Jones did come off as somewhat selfish at times.
During his time out of the rotation, Jones remained a consummate professional along with TJ Ford. They kept working hard in practice and remained in shape and were ready when called upon. One marked improvement this season was Jones's 3-point shooting. Last season he shot an abysmal 0.125 from beyond the arc. This season? A much more respectable 0.359.
In the playoffs, Jones fared a little better, even though he only played in 3 of the 5 games. He averaged 8.7 points in 16.7 minutes per game.
Nonetheless, Jones's inability to shoot the ball on a consistent basis was what prevented him from getting more minutes. And while Jones was one of the best perimeter defenders on the team, the generously listed 6'6" player was at times too slow to defend the quicker guards and too small to guard the bigger forwards. He is a decent slasher, but not a great one, and while he is athletic, he is not a supreme athlete. In other words, Jones is good in a few areas but not great at any, which makes him at best a utility player off the bench.
It's no secret that the Pacers would love to package Jones in a trade for a big, preferably young, athletic power forward. Of course, if such a deal could be done easily, it would have happened already. As a 30-year-old guard/forward who can't shoot particularly well, Jones is not exactly a player coveted by other teams. That said, even if the Pacers can't find a trade for Jones, it doesn't hurt too much having him around.
With the backcourt clogged up by Collison, Price, Stephenson, George, Rush and now George Hill, and with Granger taking up the bulk of the minutes at small forward, there really isn't much of a future for Jones in Indiana. If Rush is traded and Stephenson doesn't play, Jones could still get a few minutes here and there as a third string player, but at this stage of his career it wouldn't be fair to him.
The most frustrating player of the Indiana Pacers only got worse. When the Pacers drafted Rush out of Kansas (after winning the 2008 NCAA title) with the 13th overall pick, they knew they had an athletic guard who could shoot, defend and was not afraid to take the big shots. In the NBA, Rush showed flashes of brilliance (remember the big games he had at the end of his first and second seasons?) but also inexplicably disappeared at times. The potential was definitely there but the Pacers knew they had to be patient for Rush to wake up and realize that potential.
This season, the third of Rush's career, was the year he was supposed to take his game to the next level. Along with Roy Hibbert, Rush was supposed to be the guy that would give Danny Granger the scoring help he needed. But what happened instead? Nothing. If Rush had improved his game, it certainly didn't show, at least not on paper.
Things got off to a rocky start this season for Rush, when it was discovered that he would be suspended for the first 5 games of the regular season after failing his third drug test (of which the first two were not disclosed to the Pacers). It didn't come as a huge surprise, considering how he looked out on the court during parts of his first two seasons, that Rush might have liked to smoke a bit of weed every now and then. But failing the test three times? That's just stupid, irresponsible and unprofessional.
Nonetheless, the Pacers, for whatever reason, picked up the team option on Rush's rookie contract, meaning unless he gets traded, Rush will be a Pacer until the end of the 2011-2012 season.
Rush started off his 2010-2011 campaign with a bang, scoring 16 points and grabbing 7 boards in his return game against Denver, though everyone had a good game that day (it was THE 144-113 game, the one where they missed only one shot in the third quarter). Great, I remember thinking at the time. If Rush can just remain consistent, something he hadn't been able to do in his first two years, this could very well be his breakout year.
In the very next game, Rush goes for 2 points in 26 minutes in a loss against Houston. That pretty much summed up Brandon Rush's third year, or maybe, his entire career. Rush would have a decent stretch (eg, 15, 21, 26) and then a horrible one (eg, 2, 4, 6, 5, 8). He would show flashes of brilliant shooting (he was deadly in catch and shoot situations, especially at the start of the year) and then not take a shot all game. In many ways, he symbolized the Jekyll and Hyde performances of the Pacers all season.
He had one game winning dunk against the Detroit Pistons in February, but for the most part, this was yet another forgettable season for the player everybody expected so much more from. For the season, Rush averaged 9.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.9 assists, all down from the numbers of his sophomore year (9.4, 4.2, 1.4). That said, he did play less minutes (26.2 compared to 30.4) and improved his free throw percentage to a more respectable mark (0.755 compared to 0.629).
As for his first ever playoff performance, Rush was nearly invisible against Chicago. His playing time dwindled down to 11 minutes per game (he couldn't score and Paul George was doing a better job on Rose than he ever did or could) and only averaged 3.2 points.
Nonetheless, there were no excuses for Rush this time. It's clear that he's never going to be much more than he is right now. Blessed with physical talents, a nice shooting touch and solid defensive ability, but without the mental toughness to be more consistent and aggressive and without the discipline and determination to get better.
We can debate whether the Pacers made a mistake in picking up the team option on Rush -- yes, he wasn't very good, but he wasn't useless and he did come cheap. But one thing is clear -- the Pacers would be more than happy to get rid of him if they get the chance. With George Hill entering the mix and a logjam at shooting guard, don't be surprised if Rush is traded (or given away) before the start of next season (if there is one). And let's be honest: nobody is going to be too upset when he's gone.
I was following the 2011 NBA Draft on ESPN radio while emailing live updates to a few friends. When the 15th pick rolled around and the Pacers selected Kawhi Leonard, I had no idea whether to be excited or now, even though I immediately alerted my friends that he could very well be the next Rookie of the Year.
All I knew was that on the positive side, Leonard is supposedly an athletic freak, a 6'9" small forward with gigantic hands. A guy that was supposed to go in the top 10, and maybe as high as number 7 based on a few mock drafts. On the negative side, this was a weak draft and he was the 15th pick, and he happened to play the same position as Danny Granger and Paul George.
I barely had time to digest the pick when it was suddenly announced that the Pacers had traded the rights for Leonard to the San Antonio Spurs for George Hill. Now that guy I knew very well. The guy many expected to take over the reigns from Tony Parker to run the future Spurs offense. So much so that it was rumored that the ageing Parker was being shopped around.
Well there you go. When the smoke cleared, a few things were clear. One, this was a good trade. And two, the Pacers are, bit by bit, getting better.
This was a good trade
First of all, the Pacers did exceptionally well here. At the end of the day, they were a 37-win team last season, and any good players are welcome. In George Hill, they have gotten a proven rotation player for a perennial Western Conference contender, a hard worker expected to be the future at the point guard position. But George is more than just a point guard. At 25, he is young but has several years of experience with a classy organization under his belt. He is only 6'2", but has the range to also play SG. He is also a terrific defender, a player Darren Collison can certainly learn from. He is an Indiana native and will put bums on seats at Conseco Fieldhouse. He is apparently a 'locker room' guy, and the Pacers could certainly use him to improve team chemistry.
George averaged 11.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Spurs last season in 28.3 minutes per game. Not eye-popping numbers but very solid. He can be used in a variety of ways. He can start ahead of Collison at PG or ahead of Paul George at SG or be the first man off the bench at either guard position. Pairing Hill with George will form a super defensive unit. Pairing Hill with Collison will break ankles all over the floor. Hill can also play with Rush and Jones (provided they aren't traded), Stephenson (provided he isn't kicked out) and Dunleavy (provided he is re-signed). There's nothing to dislike about this guy joining the team.
But what about what they gave up for him? That's the question Pacers fans have been asking, with many thinking they gave up too much. But what did they actually give up here? Apart from the 15th pick Leonard, the Pacers also gave up the 42nd pick (which turned out to be Davis Bertans, a big man from Latvia) and the rights to 2005 second round pick Erazem Lorbek, who is still playing in Europe.
Is this really giving up too much? Sure, Leonard has some unpredictable upside, but how many 15th picks in recent years have turned into star players, or even decent players for that matter? This is considered one of the weakest drafts in years, which makes it even less likely that Leonard will turn into something the Pacers will regret trading. In any case, Leonard is not the type of player that can be a big help to the Pacers right away. His time is at least 2 seasons away and the Pacers need to get better right now. Playing behind Granger and George isn't exactly the best place for a rookie either. And who else could the Pacers have gotten at 15 that would have been better?
As for the other two, there is a good reason why players fall to the second round, and why second round players rarely crack the rotation on NBA teams. Bertans is 6'10" but only 210 lbs, and probably a steal at the 42nd pick, but how many second round picks in recent years have done anything for the Pacers apart from AJ Price? At the end of the day, Bertans is fairly low risk trade commodity and will most probably have a much brighter future with the Spurs than the with the Pacers. Lorbek? Why do you think he's still playing in Europe after being drafted 6 years ago?
In reality, this was not trading three pieces for one. This was trading one unknown piece with a relatively low probability of success and two useless pieces for a proven piece, even though that proven piece is by no means a superstar and probably never will be. Still, it's a good trade.
The Pacers are getting better
There's a lot of reason for optimism next season (in the even there is a next season). By all accounts, interim head coach Frank Vogel will be back as the official head coach. Hopefully, he will continue to make the team play hard every night, but also work hard on overcoming his shortcomings, such as being too lax with the team and coping better in crunch time.
Also just about locked in is that former Lakers player and assistant Brian Shaw will be Vogel's assistant. Shaw is a multiple champion and a "players' coach" Shaq called his favorite. The locker room and practices can only improve with Shaw in the mix.
Lastly, let's look at the players locked in for next season:
LIKELY STARTERS AT THIS POINT:
PG Darren Collison SG Paul George SF Danny Granger PF Tyler Hansbrough C Roy Hibbert
G AJ Price G George Hill G Lance Stephenson G/F Dahntay Jones G/F Brandon Rush F James Posey
The guys coming off the books are:
Mike Dunleavy TJ Ford Jeff Foster Solomon Jones Josh McRoberts Jamaal Tinsley (yes, him!)
Of the players that are currently on the roster, it's no secret that the Pacers are more than willing to trade Dahntay Jones and are just about willing to give away Brandon Rush and James Posey. We should assume that one of those three is gone before next season starts (and hopefully two). Furthermore, I would think that with Hill in the team, AJ Price is now also quite expendable, but otherwise I would have no problem with him being the third point guard. Oh, and Lance Stephenson. He's either going to wake up and become a great player (about a 3% possibility), remain on the bench all year (about a 7% possibility), be sent to the D-League (about a 35% possibility), be traded for spare change (about a 10% possibility) or be kept as far away from the team as possible (45% possibility).
Of the players that are off contract, the Pacers would definitely be open to re-signing McRoberts, but given that they almost traded him for OJ Mayo before the trade deadline last season, they wouldn't be too upset to see him sign elsewhere for more than he's worth. As for the rest, I would say the Pacers are open to re-signing Dunleavy at a huge discount and possibly Jeff Foster to reward his loyalty and hoping that he remains healthy to give them some much needed size, hustle and defense. Goodbye to Ford and Solo.
What it means, looking at the situation now, is that the Pacers still have plenty to do this summer. They need to get rid of the the logjam at the wing spots and sign a few veteran bigs that can help immediately. They'll have the cap room (whatever it is, after the new bargaining agreement is reached) to play around a bit. I'm confident they'll make the right moves going forward.