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by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive ||
June 1, 2012
In many ways, Leandro Barbosa was the final piece to the puzzle.
Acquired from Toronto in a trade-deadline deal that sent this year's second-round pick and cash to the Raptors on March 15, Barbosa brought the Pacers as many tangibles as intangibles. On the court, he was an explosive streak scorer who could take over a game for brief bursts off the bench.
A former NBA Sixth Man of the Year in Phoenix, Barbosa brought the team even more speed in the backcourt, another deep threat, a deceptively strong finisher on drives, as well as a veteran capable of creating plays late in the shot clock.
Leandro Barbosa Gallery »
His value off the court was at least as significant. An upbeat personality with a quick smile and outgoing nature, Barbosa walked into an already positive locker room and made it better, infusing the Pacers with confidence, constantly telling them all they had to do was believe in themselves and great things could happen.
His impact was immediate and profound. The Pacers were 25-18 when he made his debut against the Clippers on March 20, scoring 12 points in 18 minutes to give the team a glimpse of his ability. They went 17-5 in his 22 regular-season appearances, including an 8-0 mark when he scored in double figures.
Barbosa averaged 8.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists, shooting .399 overall (an uncharacteristically low number for a player with a .461 career mark) and .424 from the 3-point line (a little higher than his career figure of .391).
Barbosa's presence allowed Coach Frank Vogel to make George Hill the backup point guard. When starter Darren Collison was sidelined by a strained groin late in the season, Hill moved into the lineup and never moved out.
And then he became a puzzle all to himself.
Once the playoffs began, Barbosa slipped into a mysterious shooting funk. A sprained left ankle late in the season bothered him early in the Orlando series but when the ankle recovered, the shot did not. Barbosa scored in double figures just once in the playoffs, averaging 5.7 points in 20.3 minutes, shooting 37 percent overall and hitting just 3 of 20 (.150) from the 3-point line.
Against Miami, Barbosa shot 14 of 44 overall (.318) and missed all nine of his 3-point attempts.
The second unit struggled so obviously against a thin Miami opponent it prompted team President Larry Bird to single out the bench as the team's biggest weakness in his postseason press briefing.
All four of the team's unrestricted free agents (Barbosa, Lou Amundson, A.J. Price and Kyrylo Fesenko) are reserves, so the ability to make substantial changes to the second unit is there. But it appears the Pacers would like to re-sign Barbosa.
"Obviously, we're hopeful to have him back because of what he did for us on and off the court," Vogel said. "He really just picked up the team's spirit and confidence when he got here. He gave our team an extra boost of a guy that's been there. We're definitely hoping he can come back and be the sparkplug off the bench like he was this year.
"He could be a little more consistent with his shot-making and just finding a little better balance with his playmaking. I asked him to come in and be a score-first kind of guy and I think that may have hurt his playmaking a little bit. But he had a great year for us."
Bird said he thought Barbosa "changed the attitude of the team."
"The guys thought he added so much," Bird said. "I think we won something like 17 of 23 or 24 games with him. And then in the Miami series the last two or three games we really got nothing from Barbosa. But I like him as a player. I think he brings a lot."
Though he struggled in the playoffs, his contributions during the regular season played a major role in the Pacers' strong finish that secured the third seed in the East and homecourt advantage.
Because of that, there really is nothing puzzling about it: assuming a contract can be worked out, Barbosa figures prominently in the team's plans for 2012-13 and beyond.