Holy cow. Larry Legend works his magic once again. The Indiana Pacers have just signed PF Luis Scola -- who I have always been a huge fan of -- from the Phoenix Suns for dunking turd Gerald Green, second-year PF/C Miles Plumlee, and the Pacers' 2014 first-round draft pick (lottery protected, though this is relatively pointless because the Pacers ain't gonna be in the lottery). Wow.
Scola averaged 12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds for the Suns last season in about 27 minutes and will be asked to be the primary post offensive threat in the second unit. Even at 33, Scola is one of the most offensively skilled big men in the game and has a variety of post moves to go with his solid mid-range jumper. He also has a knack for getting under the skin of opponents, which could come in handy now that Tyler Hansbrough has flown up to wreak havoc in Toronto.
After the Pacers drafted SF Solomon Hill, re-signed starting PF David West (top priority), signed Chris Copeland to be a utility forward, CJ Watson to be the back-up PG, and Donald Sloan to be the third string PG, I already thought the Pacers had a pretty successful offseason -- considering this is small market Indiana and the financial limitations this team has. But this Scola addition is HUGE.
Even with the signing of Scola, owed $4.5m next season (and a non-guaranteed $4.8m next season), the Pacers remain $1m under the luxury tax threshold and being without a first-round pick next year offers them flexibility for signing Paul George and Lance Stephenson to contract extensions.
For Phoenix, the trade also made sense. They are in full rebuilding/tank mode and Gerald Green will give them the opportunity to be the worst team they can be. They already had a logjam at power forward so getting rid of Scola helps, and getting an additional first round pick never hurts. Win-win for everyone involved.
In reaching this current situation, the Pacers rescinded their qualifying offer to back-up PF Tyler Hansbrough, who subsequently signed with the Toronto Raptors. They also did not re-sign the disappointing back-up PG DJ Augustin, who also went off to Toronto. The offensively useless SF Sam Young is probably gone, and third-string PG Ben Hansbrough is as good as gone. In a surprise move, however, rising PF Jeff Pendergraph decided to sign with the Spurs, where he could get more of an opportunity to flourish.
I was a little disappointed when Pendergraph signed with the Spurs (even though he wasn't very good) because his departure left the Pacers without a proper back-up PF. Now Scola, who is a massive upgrade over every PF on the roster except David West, makes everything better again.
I think the Pacers are just about done dealing, so it's time to summarize the transactions and look ahead to the next season.
Pacers off-season summary
PF Luis Scola (12.8ppg, 6.6rpg last season) --traded from Phoenix
F Chris Copeland (8.7ppg, 42.1% 3P last season) -- restricted free agent from New York
PG CJ Watson (6.8ppg, 2apg last season) -- free agent from Brooklyn
PG Donald Sloan (3.5ppg, 1.7apg last season) -- free agent from New Orleans
SF Solomon Hill (rookie)
PF Tyler Hansbrough (7ppg, 4.6rpg) -- to Toronto
G/F Gerald Green (7ppg, 36.6% FG) -- to Phoenix
PG DJ Augustin (4.7ppg, 2.2apg, 35% FG last season) -- to Toronto
PF/C Miles Plumlee (0.9ppg, 23.8% FG) -- to Phoenix
PF/C Jeff Pendergraph (3.9ppg, 2.8rpg) -- to San Antonio
SF Sam Young (2.8ppg, 39.2% FG last season) -- ?
PG Ben Hansbrough (2ppg, 33% FG last season) -- ?
Roster comparison 2013/14 (likely) vs 2012/13
C Roy Hibbert
PF David West
SF Danny Granger
SG Paul George
PG George HIll
PF Luis Scola
PF/C Ian Mahinmi
PG CJ Watson
G Lance Stephenson
SG Orlando Johnson
F Chris Copeland
SF Solomon Hill
PG Donald Sloan
C Roy Hibbert
PF David West
SF Paul George
SG Lance Stephenson
PG George Hill
PF Tyler Hansbrough
PF/C Ian Mahinmi
PG DJ Augustin
G/F Gerald Green
SG Orlando Johnson
PF/C Jeff Pendergraph
SF Sam Young
PG Ben Hansbrough
PF/C Miles Plumlee
F Danny Granger (5 games)
* I have inserted Danny Granger in the starting line-up and moved Lance Stephenson to the second unit because if Granger is even 75% of what he used to be he deserves to start, and Stephenson seems to have accepted that he will be moved to the bench.
** The Pacers have two empty roster spots left which they could use to sign some cheap injury back-ups, though the team appears to be sufficiently stacked at all positions.
*** I've tried to match up the bench players from this season with players from last season according to roles they had on the team.
On paper at least, the 2013/14 Indiana Pacers are a huge upgrade over the 2012/13 Pacers.
Paul George will look to take his game to the next level by becoming the superstar he is destined to be despite being shifted to the less comfortable position of shooting guard, to which he will have to adjust, and George Hill's game should continue to improve, if not in the numbers then at least in subtle ways such as his ball handling and poise under pressure.
Roy Hibbert will be looking for the second straight year to carry his post-season dominance over to the regular season. He won't average the type of numbers he had against Miami, but he needs to be a lot better than he was last season. Not having a wrist injury to start off the season will help.
The X-factor, Lance Stephenson, should continue to grow his game as well, though it remains to be seen how he will handle a demotion to the second unit. However, with the likes of Scola, Watson and Copeland to help him out, he won't feel the pressure as much to do it all like he did when coming off the bench last season. I am confident he will transition well.
The big question mark hovers over Danny Granger, who sat out all but five games last season. There has been no word on his knee, though everyone is assuming that he will come back 100%. I'm not so sure. He sat out essentially from November to late February, nearly four months, and was shelved again in early March. If another seven or eight months off is not enough, then Granger's career is effectively over. But as I said, if he can be 75% of the player he used to be (even taking into account his natural decline over the last few years), he will make this Pacers team that much more dangerous. His jump shooting, defense and leadership will take a lot of offensive pressure off the rest of the starting unit. And even if he's not up for the starting role and needs to play limited minutes off the bench, that's not a bad thing either given the rise of Lance Stephenson.
The major upgrade is the bench. Luis Scola will be huge for the second unit, which was one of the worst in the league last season. And if, god forbid, David West goes down with an injury, Scola can step right in without the Pacers losing too much in terms of production. Losing Psycho-T does hurt a little in the energy department, but Scola is a much better player no matter which way you look at it.
CJ Watson is a gigantic improvement over the disappointing DJ Augustin, who was possibly one of the worst point guards in the league last season. He was atrocious for most of the year before finding his groove (by his standards), but he was still little more than a spot-up three-point shooter who hurt the team defensively with his lack of size and offensively with his inability to finish on penetrations. Watson brings toughness and experience with him, and even if he doesn't live up to expectations he should still be a solid upgrade in the back-up PG department.
Chris Copeland offers the Pacers something they haven't had for a while, and that is solid off-the-bench three-point shooting and energy in a single package. The damage he did against the Pacers in the second round is one of the key reasons he was offered a contract here in the first place. Some point to his lack of D, others say he was in the right place at the right time with the Knicks -- but it's up to him to show last season was no fluke. Scola's presence means he'll play mostly small forward, where his defensive deficiencies will be less glaring.
Donald Sloan is not great, but he's still more serviceable than Ben Hansbrough, who just doesn't have the athleticism or skill set to be a long-term survivor in the NBA. As a third string PG Sloan is good enough.
And though rookie Solomon Hill was panned as a first round pick, the Pacers have a lot of confidence in him. He is a worker and a good locker room guy, and they believe he can contribute right away. Then again, I think they said the same thing about Miles Plumlee, whom you can't call a bust because he rarely played last season but doesn't look like he'll be an All-Star any time soon. Plumlee has size and athleticism, but not the mad dog/serial killer craziness that Jeff Foster or Tyler Hansbrough have -- and that's what the Pacers wanted from him.
In fact, looking through the Pacers' 2013/14 roster, you can pretty much say that with the exception of Sam Young being arguably better than Solomon Hill (at least a more proven commodity) and David West ageing another year, the Pacers are better in every roster spot than they were last year, either through trades, signings, or the natural development of young players (including Orlando Johnson). And yes, there's also the return of Danny Granger, who gave the Pacers virtually nothing last year -- a blessing in disguise because it paved the way for Paul George's development.
But let's still exercise some caution here for the sake of prudence. I was one of those pathetic losers who thought Gerald Green would be in the Sixth Man of the Year conversations last year. And I thought DJ Augustin would be light years better than he turned out to be. Even Ian Mahinmi was a relative disappointment. And those were the three "big" additons from the last offseason.
So let's hold off on calling the Pacers the favorites to dethrone Miami next season for now. After all, the team that took the Heat to 7 games last season did so because of favorable matchups and injuries. They were, despite the praises they received, still only a 49-win team during the regular season. Would 60 wins and the first or second seed be asking for too much?
That said, as a Pacer fan you can't help but feel excited. With Miami losing Mike Miller and adding basically no one (except a second round pick and potentially Greg Oden), Boston falling apart, and New York trying to fill holes by adding more holes with the likes of Bargnani, things are looking up for the Pacers. On the other hand, LeBron James is still around, Chicago will have Derrick Rose back, and Brooklyn has added Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and a bunch of other old former stars. It's not going to be easy to come out of the East, though the cause for optimism has never been so high.