Pacers Thad Williamson is the GM for the Indiana Pacers.  The Pacers have the 26th pick and select:

Kris Clack, SF, 6'5", Texas

Just five months ago indeed, just three weeks ago the Indiana Pacers were considered the odds-on favorite to capture the Eastern Conference championship and very likely an NBA crown. But after late game execution failures in game one against New York, swapping wins with the Knicks on questionable home-cooked calls in games 2 and 3, a solid win in game 4, and then an inexplicable home collapse in game 5, followed by the clincher in New York, the Pacers are suddenly a franchise at the crossroads. At most, the current group of players has one more year together to make a solid run, and somehow cover up the glaring weaknesses that were exposed by the Knicks: lack of offense going to the rim, limited post scoring, and inability to block out a Camby-type player. But even that last run may be cut short, as Rik Smits considers an early retirement and questions swirl about Larry Bird's future as coach.

Smits was clearly not the same player in '99 as in '98 but neither was Reggie Miller. Indeed, this year's playoff loss raises doubts about whether a Miller team could ever win a championship. The Pacers' excessive dependence on perimeter shooting (Miller, Mullin) and lack of creative playmaking (apart from periodic brilliant flashes from Rose) hurt the team offensively, while a sheer lack of speed, strength, and leaping ability hampered Indiana's defensive efforts against the likes of Houston and Camby. Clearly, the team a s a whole got a year older in '99 without getting better. Even if they had beaten the Knicks, their chances of beating San Antonio or any of the other Western contenders would have been low.

What is to be done? By June 2000, when the contracts for Miller, Rose, and Jackson run out, and Smits and Perkins head to their near-certain retirements, it will be time to think about a full-scale overhaul. For now, the best thing to do is not to panic but to keep the team together, secure in the knowledge that at minimum the Pacers are a solid 50 win team and will in all likelihood be one of the top 2 or 3 seeds in the East next year, even with no great improvements. Indeed, if Smits' health somehow improves and he can return to his '98 level, it may not be too late for a Pacer title after all. But the 1999-2000 team of aging veterans will need to start playing some of the young unproven talents Al Harrington and Austin Croshere in particular as well as their 1999 draft pick more quality regular season minutes, if only to rest the old guys for the spring playoff wars.

Position by position review:

Point guard:

Solid. Marc Jackson had an excellent playoff run, substantially increasing his scoring totals as well as his assists. He still has some life left the main worry is whether the NBA will install a 5-second count to take away his bread and butter post game. Travis Best is a good backup although his playoff impact this year was sharply reduced from the '98 season. Hopefully Best will have a better year in 2000; his energy and athleticism are badly needed.

Shooting guard:

Reggie, Reggie This is not the place for a long discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of Miller's game. Let's just say getting to the rim and creating (although Miller knows every trick in the book to draw fouls) and defense (less than one steal a game) are not his strongest suits. He still needs to be the man in the fourth quarter though, and I doubt he will want to be remembered for his ineffective performances against New York at crunch time this year.

Jalen Rose can play anywhere from 1-3 and will remain a critical player for the Pacers. Rose has been somewhat inconsistent but has often been the only Pacer to be able to score off his own dribble. His three point shooting in 99 (26% regular season) was a disaster and he had a poor game 5 against the Knicks (six points, five fouls.) But if the Pacers are ever going to make the Finals, Rose has to be part of the story. He will also have a lot to play for in 2000 with his contract expiring.

As my draft pick indicates, I think the Pacers should not re-sign Fred Hoiberg, now a free agent.

Bottom line is that the 2 guard should be a strength for the Pacers against all comers, but if Reggie isn't getting it done, the Pacers became painfully ordinary.

Small forward:

Father Time Marches On for both Chris Mullin and Derrick McKey Mullin upped his FG% to nearly 48% in the playoffs after a disappointing 41% in the regular season, and carried the Pacers on occasion, such as the game 4 win in New York. But the end of the line is clearly nearing for Mullin. If McKey can regain his health he offers more rebounding and passing ability as well as a better man-to-man defensive presence. Both players are under contract through 2001, but even if both are healthy and suffer no sharp deterioration the Pacers will be at best breaking even at the SF slot compared to other elite NBA clubs.

Rose can also see minutes as a 3, as can some of the big men. The Pacers need to make a decision about seldom-used Austin Croshere, who played in 27 regular season games (42% shooting) but only 1 minute in the playoff. Croshere's rookie contract expires next year, and so far the Pacers have almost nothing to show for their '97 choice.

Power Forward:

Davis and Davis. Dale and Antonio Davis are both locked up for long-term contracts (through 2003), which is a blessing for franchise stability these are two very solid players but a curse for Pacer fans dreaming of a more offensively gifted player at the 4 spot. The Davises average over 17 boards and about 2.5 blocks a game, as well as about 17 points, and Dale Davis is consistently among the league leaders in field goal percentage. But in the Knick series you knew New York had pretty much won a possession defensively when the Pacers wound up with the ball in the hands of one of these guys (especially Antonio) and the shot clock at 6 or less.

Perhaps Al Harrington will develop to provide a more direct offensive threat at the 4 spot the rookie didn't play in the playoffs and saw just over 150 minutes of action in the regular season. Harrington should be given a longer look next year.

Again, the situation is that the Pacers are very credible at the 4 spot, but will not enjoy a matchup advantage here over other elite teams. Moreover, the duplication of talent between Dale and Antonio Davis limits the team's versatility, and while Dale is too good to give up barring an exceptional offer, Antonio isn't good enough to trade away and get a quality offensive big guy in return. The Pacers may be stuck here, which ain't bad, but isn't enough to be a strong point on a championship team, either.

Center:

The End of the Line: Has Rik Smits had it? The Dutchman averaged less than 12 points a game in the playoffs, down from a 16 ppg playoff career average and his 14.9 points a game in the '99 regular season. Feet problems may now force Smits out of the game after 11 strong years. It would be difficult to exaggerate what a blow a Smits retirement would be to the Pacer franchise: There is no immediate successor in training, no center in the draft, and no starter-quality pivot on the market. If Smits does quit the Pacers could probably muddle by with a center-less lineup for long stretches and remain a 50 win team, but title talk will be out.

Sam Perkins, who said in May he was "running on fumes," has one more year left as a backup. Perkins had an unremarkable regular season, but he was a real force in the sweep of Milwaukee at 9 ppg. His shooting percentage went up drastically in the playoffs 51% from the field, including 46% on 3s. A fair question is why his minutes fell at the same time, from 16 a game in the regular season to 11 in the playoffs, including almost no role against the Knicks (especially after Ewing went down.) Perkins will be back for one more trip and should still be able to provide good defense and the occasional shooting streak.

The Pacers should probably re-sign Mate Skelin, the 7 footer from Croatia, as insurance. Warm body Mark Pope is already under contract for 2000.

Conclusion:

The short-term prospects are all dependent on Smits. After that, there will have to an overhaul and younger players brought in. A consistent in-the-paint scorer is badly needed, as well as fresh legs for defensive pressure and the glass. In terms of this draft pick, it's high time the Pacers got someone who can actually play in the near term and add a fresh wrinkle to this aging team.

My pick:

Kris Clack, Texas, shooting guard. Clack was the MVP of the Desert Classic, and is a renowned defender who can also help on the glass. He will not be a big scorer in the NBA but can take it to the basket with strength and create his own mid-range shot, two qualities in short supply on these Pacers. Basically, I envision Clack as capable of giving the Pacers an adrenaline burst off the bench with hustle plays, taking the assignment against tough 2 guards (a.k.a. Allan Houston) for stretches of the second and fourth quarters, and giving Bird another place to turn for help on those nights when Jalen Rose isn't getting anything done. Clack definitely has an NBA body, and would be in the right place in Indiana to start developing an NBA mind too. He could also bring short-term bursts of energy to a team that too often in '99 played uninspired hoops—even when it most mattered.

Others I considered:

The major other player I considered was Kenny Thomas of New Mexico. I like his offensive potential, both as a post scorer and as a passer. But there are too many Davises ahead of him in Indiana, and Thomas is too short to play center. He is also far from a Larry Bird-type big-game player. Still, a scenario in which the Pacers took Thomas and then traded Antonio Davis for a quality player would be acceptable in my view.

I also briefly considered Trajan Langdon, Chris Herren, and Lee Nailon, and Cal Bowdler of Old Dominion more extensively. I only have seen Bowdler play once, but it was a terrific performance against North Carolina last December in which he displayed rebounding skills, ability to run the floor, a shooting touch, and a lot of heart in nearly leading the Monarchs to an upset. Larry Bird would like him, I feel sure, and while he is destined to be at best a career backup (perhaps as good or better than an Andrew DeClerq) Bowdler would still be a credible choice if the Pacers knew Smits was gone.

Who I think they will take:

No idea. I just hope it's not another project.

Other post-season moves:

  • Roll out all the stops to get Smits back.
  • Prepare motivational video for returning players based on lowlights from the Knicks series.
  • Look seriously at getting a paint scorer,
  • and, if Clack is not the choice, a penetrating player.
  • Be willing to give up Antonio as bait for such a player, hold on to the rest.
  • Coax Larry Bird back.

Craig Simpson - Usenet Draft Commissioner


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