It was announced earlier that each team would have to play at least one back-to-back-to-back during the shortened season, and I thought the Pacers would be one of the teams that played more than one. I was right.
That said, the schedule makers have smiled down on the Pacers this season, at last...kind of. The full schedule for the Pacers can be found here.
The Pacers begin with a couple of preseason games against the team that ousted them from the playoffs last season, the Chicago Bulls. Even though it's the preseason, I think the Pacers will be out to make a statement.
The real season begins at home (finally!) against the Detroit Pistons. These are both vastly different teams to the ones that were involved in the brawl, but it's still going to be a good rivalry. Hopefully, the Pacers can get off to strong start because of the player-held practices they had during the lockout. The next four games are @Toronto, Cleveland, @Detroit and @New Jersey, offering the Pacers a real chance to get off to a quick start, and dare I say perhaps a 5-0 start?
The road gets tougher from there, with two road games against the Heat and the Celtics. In fact, all of January is fairly rough, with only 5 home games against 11 road games. Ouch.
The back-to-back-to-back stretch happens only twice, from February 14 to 16 from March 22 to 24, and it's not too bad: Miami, @Cleveland, New Jersey, then @Washington, Phoenix, @Milwaukee.
If the Pacers are still in the playoff race (and they ought to be, though it might depend on the moves the various Eastern Conference teams make in the next few weeks), then April is relatively kind to them, as they only have 5 road games against 10 home games, including 4 straight to finish off the season (Milwaukee, Philly, Detroit and Chicago).
Also mentioned was that not every team will play against each other at least twice this season. Teams not making the trip to Conseco Fieldhouse this season include the defending champs Mavs, the Lakers, Rockets, Grizzlies, Spurs and Kings.
As the Pacers keep searching for an extra big man, let's hope the existing core of Granger, Hibbert, Collison, Hansbrough and George can continue to grow.
Yahoo's Adian Wojnarowski just reported that the Pacers are in talks with the Celtics to potentially land their superstar guard Rajon Rondo (check out the report here). It's really part of Boston's grand plan to land Chris Paul (although reports suggest Paul wouldn't re-sign with the Celtics), and since New Orleans would prefer to rebuild if they lose Paul rather than sign Rondon, they needed a third party for the deal to work.
Enter the Pacers, who already have Darren Collison, AJ Price, Lance Stephenson (well...) and the newly signed George Hill. It doesn't make much sense to me that they would want someone like Rondo, who is reportedly a difficult guy to work with and arguably only excelled because he had Boston's 'Big Three' to pass to and they had the authority to keep him in check. Throw him in Indiana with a young coach in Frank Vogel and guys who aren't on the same level as those three future Hall of Famers and there's no telling how he might react. Plus he badly dislocated his elbow in last season's playoffs against Miami, and there's still a little question mark over that.
On the other hand, remember when people were saying Rondo was the 'Big One' in Boston and that he was better than the 'Big Three'? Remember at the start of last season when he was blitzing the NBA and dishing out dimes like he was Magic Johnson? What if it's that Rondo that arrives in Indiana, and he learns to shoot? In my humble opinion he is still not one of the PGs at the very top -- I'd rank Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook and Steve Nash above him -- but he's still an undoubted upgrade on any guard on the Pacers at the moment.
My inclination is for the Pacers to shoot down this offer. They don't need Rondo and it would take way too much to get him.
Now the lockout is almost over, it's time to take a look at whether the Pacers really can land one of these guys, and whether they ought to try.
Currently, the Pacers have Roy Hibbert as the incumbent center and Tyler Hansbrough as the likely starting power forward, which is not too shabby but could certainly be improved on. Back-up center and free agent Jeff Foster is getting on in years and has been troubled by injury more recently, but I assume the Pacers would like to re-sign him as a sign of respect and loyalty to reward Foster for services to the Pacers over the years so that he can retire a Pacer. Josh McRoberts is more of a question mark -- the Pacers showed a willingness to trade him for OJ Mayo at the end of the last season, but if they can get a him for a good price I think they'd like him to return too. As for free agent number three Solomon Jones, his career with the Pacers is as good as over.
In short, the Pacers have a core of Hibbert, Hansbrough, probably Foster and maybe McRoberts. Granger and Posey (if he isn't tossed out beforehand) can play the four but they're not considered 'bigs'. Accordingly, West or Nene (and/or Carl Landry) would be a very nice addition.
The New Orleans free agent recently had major ACL surgery which is never a good sign, especially for a 31-year-old like West. Nevertheless, his stock remains high, which is why he opted out of his contract in search of the bigger dollars.
Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski reported a short while ago that several teams are interested in West, but New Orleans and the Pacers remain the frontrunners to land him. If this is the case, then I would say the Pacers should have the edge, considering the rumors surrounding the departure of Chris Paul from New Orleans. With Indiana, West can get the dollars as well as a chance to win. With the Hornets, if Paul leaves, West would be destined for the lottery for at least the forseeable future.
But the bigger question is, do the Pacers need West? He would inject a much needed veteran presence, but at 6'9" West is somewhat undersized, and with his ACL condition up in the air, would it be too much of a gamble? Plus are West's numbers inflated by the presence of the best PG in the league in Chris Paul? He has played with Collison in New Orleans, which might allow their pick and roll game to flourish, but whichever way you look at it, signing West comes with big risks and only moderate potential.
That said, any time a big name free agent who can make a significant impact is willing to come to Indiana, I say take 'em.
Wojnarowski also reported that Indiana is a player in the Nene sweepstakes, along with Denver, New Jersey, Golden State, Houston, LA Clippers and Portland. Theoretically, the Pacers wouldn't be a frontrunner, but Nene might be a good fit -- a big (6'11"), defensive minded player who can rebound and run the floor but not quite the multi-faceted offensive threat West is.
Consider a frontline with the 7'2" Hibbert and the 6'11" Nene, which would shift the energetic Hansbrough to sixth man, a role most believe he would relish. Nene could play the five with Hansbrough or the four with Hibbert, and he could easily play 30 minutes a night. Hibbert and Nene makes a more imposing defensive combo than with West, but considering how much the Pacers need a second reliable scoring option next to Granger, it's not clear which path the Pacers would take if the gods smile upon them and make both men available.
There's another big piece of potential news which I'll report on next.
According to ESPN, the Pacers are one of the teams that got screwed by the proposed new agreement because the Pacers had been patient in saving cap space in order to pursue marquee free agents in the coming years -- and now the new amnesty clause will arm other teams with the ammunition to compete with the Pacers, which does not bode well for a small market team in Indiana.
Nevertheless, the future looks bright for the Pacers.
According to various sources, there are a couple of potential moves in the works. I'll report on them shortly.