Despite another mediocre season in 2008-09, the Pacers entered this summer with their long-term plan providing promising early returns. Danny Granger made the jump to his first All-Star Game appearance, Troy Murphy had a career year, Roy Hibbert steadily improved, and Brandon Rush ended a rollercoaster season with a bang. While the franchise is still years away from being a serious Championship contender, they're finally moving forward instead of just treading water.
With a late-Lottery Draft pick and $8 million to spend, the Pacers didn't have much of an opportunity to greatly improve their personnel. They used the 13th overall pick on Tyler Hansbrough, and secured veteran PG A.J. Price with their second round selection. The $8 million was divvied up among veterans like Dahntay Jones, Solomon Jones (no relation), and Earl Watson, along with bringing back bench contributors like Josh McRoberts and Travis Diener.
While Hansbrough won't be a star player in the NBA, and doesn't have a ton of potential, he's a workhorse who will find a way to contribute. Price may take a few years of seasoning before he's ready to see the floor, but he did a great job running a super-talented UConn team this past season. Dahntay Jones isn't a scorer, but is a lockdown defender and frees Granger to concentrate on scoring, rather than drawing the defensive assignment of guarding the opposing team's best player. Earl Watson is also a defensive upgrade, and his career PER numbers (11.6 ppg, 7.3 apg) are very solid. Solomon Jones helps the frontcourt depth, is a shot-blocker, and once punched Zaza Pachulia in the face.
Hansbrough isn't flashy, but should provide solid minutes
In the process, the Pacers did have to let Jarrett Jack walk to Toronto because of his inflated price tag, and rejected a $7M+ option for Marquis Daniels. With Mike Dunleavy's injury situation still up in the air, the team has no backup plan should Danny Granger go down with injury. As of right now, there is only one backup wing (Brandon Rush), but a logjam at point guard.
The Pacers still have one roster spot to fill, but we know 14 of the 15 that they'll carry into the 2009-10 campaign (* projected starters):
PG: T.J. Ford*, Earl Watson, Travis Diener, A.J. Price
SG: Dahntay Jones*, Brandon Rush
SF: Danny Granger*, Mike Dunleavy
PF: Troy Murphy*, Tyler Hansbrough, Josh McRoberts
C: Roy Hibbert*, Jeff Foster, Solomon Jones
That's likely not a playoff team, and the Pacers could very well find themselves back in the dreaded NBA purgatory - the grouping between high-Lottery pick to low-seed playoff team where they've been the last few seasons. However, last year's team won just one more game than the 2007-08 team did, yet I think we'd all agree that they improved. Improvement isn't necessarily translated into wins and losses. By adding depth, and most importantly, players that can actually defend, this team is better-suited for a run at the 7-8 seed in the East than they were last season.