Narrowing the Gap on South Florida and Bricktown
by Mark Boyle
July 14, 2012
Jumbo shrimp. Pretty ugly. Living dead. Military intelligence. Oxymorons, all, and I think it’s time to add another one to the list.
As we’ve seen over the years, when a top flight NBA player becomes unshackled contractually and theoretically available to any suitor, his services are anything but free. The Pacers had two restricted free agents, one of whom – Roy Hibbert – was lusted after by Portland to the point that he had a max contract offer in his lap within nanoseconds after the free agency period opened. The Pacers not only refused to be outbid by the Blazers, they ponied up more than cab fare to keep fellow restricted free agent George Hill in the mix for seasons to come.
There were other maneuverings, too, as Donnie (Yoda) Walsh and Kevin (Monty Hall) Pritchard gave the bench a makeover. Both of these guys are proven roster builders. Walsh not only built a team in Indiana that was a legitimate championship contender for the better part of a decade, he then left Indiana and managed to rectify the catastrophic damage that Isiah Thomas did while running the Knicks into the ground several years back. Pritchard, while not as experienced as Walsh, still impressed while at the controls in Portland, taking a team that was floundering at the bottom of the NBA food chain and building it up in relative short order.
It’s too soon to evaluate these moves, but a cursory look is encouraging.
Signing Employee #3 and Employee #55 allows the Pacers to return their starting five intact. Indiana does not have a top flight NBA star, so continuity becomes more important than it might be otherwise. This is a solid group, with all five players either in their prime or about to enter it, and they enjoyed considerable success a season ago.
The other moves restructure a bench that had some moments worth reliving a season ago, but was not nearly effective enough in Hoops Emperor Stern’s Tournament. Darren Collison, while a good player, perceives himself as a starter, would not have been happy backing up Hill, and should be seamlessly replaced by D.J. Augustin. Gerald Green, a bust during tours with four NBA teams earlier in his career, went back to work, honing his game in Russia, China, and various D-League outposts before returning to The Association in impressive fashion last spring in New Jersey. He should be able to provide some juice off the bench, and the addition of Ian Mahinmi gives the Pacers a legitimate big man to back up Employee #55. Lou Amundson did a commendable job in that role last season, but he was undersized and not even his considerable energy and effort could always camouflage that fact.
Do these moves allow the Pacers to join the likes of Miami and Oklahoma City among the ranks of playground toughs? Unless you’re a relentless optimist, that’s hard to envision as long as Mister James sits in his throne in Miami and Mister Durant frolics in Bricktown. But it’s not hard to see the Pacers as the best of the challengers in the East, and with a young core group that figures to get better the prospect of narrowing the gap over an 82 chapter novel is entirely realistic. Or, to put it another way, Miami’s top players are as good as they’re going to get. It’s reasonable to assume that Indiana’s are not, and it will be fun to watch this group try to narrow the gap between themselves and the playground bullies down in South Florida.