Note: This story was originally published on June 18, 2012.
One of the most popular players in the locker room -- both with players and coaches -- A.J. Price has been an ideal backup in his three seasons with the Pacers.
When out of the rotation, he doesn't complain or sulk, practices hard and actively supports his teammates. When in the rotation, he has proven consistently effective at running the offense smoothly, directing the team and hitting the occasional big shot.
He also is at a crossroads. An unrestricted free agent, Price must determine where his future lies. To do that, he must first determine what opportunity might await with the Pacers.
"A.J. is a pure point guard who really knows how to run a team," Coach Frank Vogel said. "As long as I'm a coach, I hope I have A.J. on the roster in some capacity as a second or third point guard. He's a great security blanket, to know I can always plug him in there and get great point guard play.
"He's just got to work on consistency of his shooting. He's a good shooter but for whatever reason he hasn't put up great shooting numbers and that's what he's got to work on developing. He's a big shot-maker, has a lot of guts to take the big shot but he's got to put up those consistent numbers."
A second-round pick out of Connecticut in 2009, Price played in 106 games his first two seasons, averaging 6.9 points, 2.0 assists and 15.6 minutes. As Vogel pointed out, for a guy with a sound shooting stroke, he struggled for consistency from the perimeter, hitting .384 overall and just .313 from the 3-point line.
When the Pacers acquired George Hill from San Antonio during the 2011 NBA Draft, it looked like bad news for Price because the newcomer looked to take over either -- or both -- backup guard spots. Out of the rotation the first five weeks of the season, Price got his big chance when Hill went down with a chip fracture in his ankle in February.
Price responded by putting together his best stretch of the season and one of the best of his career. In seven consecutive games from Feb. 11-22, he averaged 10.1 points, 1.7 assists and shot 23 of 45 (.511) overall and 11 of 24 (.458) from the 3-point line.
When Hill returned, Price remained in the rotation as the backup point guard but his productivity waned. The Pacers acquired another veteran guard, Leandro Barbosa, at the trade deadline and that effectively was the end of Price's season.
He wound up averaging career lows of 12.9 minutes and 3.9 points and shot .339 overall and .295 from the arc.
Hill displaced Darren Collison as the starting point guard late in the season and Barbosa also is a free agent, so there could be some shuffling in the backcourt that could create an opening in the rotation for Price. If Hill, Collison and Barbosa all return, however, Price could hardly be blamed for seeking out a better opportunity elsewhere.