Who's New: G Monta Ellis (free agent), C Jordan Hill (free agent), F Myles Turner (draft), F Chase Budinger (trade), G Toney Douglas (free agent), G Joseph Young (draft)
Who's Gone: C Roy Hibbert (trade), F David West (free agent), F Luis Scola (free agent), G C.J. Watson (free agent), G Donald Sloan (free agent), F Chris Copeland (free agent), F Damjan Rudez (trade)
Off-season Grade: C-. I don't quite understand what the Pacers plan is because they're sending mixed messages. On one hand it looks like they want to get younger, faster and more athletic as part of a rebuild, which is fine, but then why sign Ellis? Also, their reputation among veterans and free agents is going to take a hit for the way they treated Hibbert and also for the positional demands they seem to be making of Paul George.
2015-16 Slogan: "Wait, why is everybody killing us in the paint all of a sudden?"
What Else Is New?: In a fairly unprecedented move, the Pacers brain trust of GM Larry Bird and coach Frank Vogel publicly announced that Roy Hibbert's role would be reduced if he opted in for the final year of his contract. They were all but begging for Hibbert to want out and letting it known he was available. West took offense to this, telling Bob Kravitz of WHTR.com it wasn't cool for management to "throw Roy under the bus," and it helped make his decision easier to opt out of his own contract.
Also, Bird wants to use George as a stretch four, and George is already balking at the idea because of the wear and tear it'll cause him to bang down low defensively. (For the record, West scoffed at the notion of George playing the four during Spurs media day.) It's always fun when a team's front office and star player are at odds.
Oh, and in a blatant money grab, the team will wear a Hoosiers-themed "Hickory High" jersey as an alternate uniform. The fans are gonna gobble those up. Aren't they paying enough homage to the movie as it is by having only one player on the team worth much?
Your Likely Starters:
C Jordan Hill
PF Paul George
SF Solomon Hill
SG Monta Ellis
PG George Hill
They got all the Hills! Seriously, what are the odds? The only three dudes with the last name "Hill" in the NBA are playing for the Pacers, and they'll probably all start too. They're not related or anything, so that's just weird. [Editor's Note: I wouldn't want to be Indiana's play-by-play guy this year. Too confusing. -jrw]
George H. we know about (Pop's favorite player, not really a point guard, questionable decision-maker with his hair, etc.) He's been very consistent as a shooter over the years at all three levels, but he flourished in a bigger role last season in P. George's absence, posting a sneaky 21.5 PER when none of us were paying attention. He missed quite a bit of time with injuries too, playing in only 43 games, and PER isn't everything, but for the record Kawhi Leonard's career-best PER last year was 22.0. Hill also led the team in net rating by a mile, according to Basketball-reference.com. Despite my cute little Hoosiers joke up there, he's really a pretty good player.
The other two Hills, not so much. Jordan put up decent counting stats with the Lakers last year, because somebody had to, but he's basically Carlos Boozer without the shoe polish on his head. He's not at all an efficient shooter for a big and he hardly ever gets to the line. The Pacers are gonna ask him to play center, and he'll be undersized there. They're gonna realize how valuable Hibbert was, and quick. Solomon meanwhile is a former first round pick who improved marginally if at all and probably isn't going to get a whole lot better as a 24-year old in his third season. He's got length but can't shoot a lick. Rodney Stuckey or C.J. Mills will take his job soon enough or they'll just move George back to the three.
Ellis was the big acquisition, and the Pacers are a pretty good fit for him, actually. George Hill isn't a ball-dominant point guard, so Ellis can get back to doing what he loves, running the offense and specializing in the pick-and-pop with Jordan Hill. He'll be protected defensively too, playing with a bunch of guys who are good-to-excellent perimeter defenders, leaving him to camp out on the weak links, which is a luxury he never had in Dallas. They just don't have a rim protector is all.
Obviously for the Pacers to have any chance to win games, George has to show he's fully recovered from his horrific broken leg suffered during Team USA duty two summers ago. I'm worried he's not quite there still and that Bird and Vogel are urging him to play power forward in part to hide the possibility that he's lost some quickness and explosiveness. George was an MVP candidate for the first half of the 2013-14 season but his play tailed badly the second half of the year, marred by issues both on and off the floor. When he's right, he's as good as anyone in the conference outside of LeBron James, but I just don't know if we'll see that guy again. We haven't with Derrick Rose, after all.
Your Likely Bench:
G Rodney Stuckey
G C.J. Miles
C Ian Mahinmi
F Chase Budinger
F Myles Turner
G Toney Douglas
F Lavoy Allen
F Glenn Robinson III
Yup, that looks like an East bench alright. Stuckey and Miles both had bigger roles last year than the team originally envisioned because of all the injuries, and both fared pretty well. Stuckey shot the three ball a lot better than he ever had with the Pistons and showed just enough prowess as a rebounder and playmaker to be an asset overall, but at 6'5 it'd be asking a lot to shoehorn him into a starting lineup with Ellis already at the two. Miles is a bit bigger, a bit more athletic and a better defender, but he can't fill it up like Stuckey can. He still makes more sense as a starter than Solomon Hill. Mahinmi is one of the league's better backup fives and has been for a while now, but still foul prone. It feels like he's been around forever, but he's only 28, and his role will probably increase this season.
There isn't much to get excited about for the rest. Douglas is really a stretch as the backup point and I can see Vogel just staggering the minutes between George Hill, Ellis and Stuckey. Budinger isn't worth talking about because he's never healthy. Turner put up monster stats in three Summer League games as a 19-year-old, and there aren't many bigs in front of him on the roster, so he'll probably play quite a bit and suffer through growing pains.
Your Coach: Frank Vogel
I have my doubts about Vogel's future. He blew Game 1 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals by taking Hibbert out late, he couldn't keep the team from imploding the following season after a hot start and he was a willing accomplice to the shady dealings this past off-season. He's coached defensive, grind-it-out teams this whole time and I'm not confident he's got the chops for a freewheeling, fast-paced, small-ball game.
Bottom Line:The Pacers are pretty loaded on the perimeter, but really thin up front, which is a part of the reason they want to move George to the four. If Turner winds up being a star in a few years they'll look smart, but in the meantime they're setting themselves up to lose a bunch of 117-109 games, like the Chuck Person/Reggie Miller Pacers of old -- and that's assuming George regains his form. I'm dubious that he will and see Indy finishing with one of the worst records in the league, somewhere in the neighborhood of 28-54.
For more nuanced Pacers coverage, please visit IndyCornrows.com