|The NBA runner-ups have the 27th pick. Their
Net GM is Eugene Wallingford. Eugene stepped in at the last moment
when the original GM dropped out. Thanks Eugene!
The Pacers Select:
I. TEAM NEEDS/HISTORY
Despite widespread belief that the Pacers had missed their best chance for an NBA title, Indiana won the Central Division again, earned the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference play-offs, and finally broke through with a conference championship and a berth in the NBA Finals. The Pacers fought admirably against the highly-favored Los Angeles Lakers in the finals, but a loose first game and a couple of poorly-executed endgames prevented them from winning the championship rings so coveted by veterans such as REGGIE MILLER and coach Larry Bird.
Ironically, the Pacers have already begun their rebuilding, or perhaps what GM Donnie Walsh hopes will be a reloading. In the last few drafts, Indiana has added AUSTIN CROSHERE, GREG FOSTER, and high schoolers AL HARRINGTON and JONATHAN BENDER. Bender's acquisition is one sign that Indiana is looking to the future as much as to today, because in order to move up in the draft to take him, the Pacers surrendered crowd favorite Antonio Davis, who provided crucial back-up minutes behind center RIK SMITS and power forward DALE DAVIS. Antonio's presence in the middle could have made a big difference against Shaquille O'Neal in the championship series.
Still, Indiana is a team with many old players. Miller, Smits, and MARK JACKSON start and play a bulk of the team's minutes. DERRICK MCKEY, SAM PERKINS, and CHRIS MULLIN come off the bench, though Mullin saw his minutes cut drastically as younger players came to the fore this year. McKey has been hampered by injuries the last couple of years, and Perkins--despite still having as accurate a 3-point stroke as you will ever find in a center--plans to retire.
The rest of the team is young. JALEN ROSE emerged as a potential star at small forward or shooting guard this year, leading the Pacers in scoring and showing that he can create his own shots, something no Pacer star has been able to do in years. Croshere and TRAVIS BEST provide substantial minutes off the bench. Harrington and Bender aren't yet playing much, but Larry Bird is known for not playing his rookies much. Harrington began to show hints of becoming a solid player this year in a limited role.
Oh, and Coach Bird has retired from coaching, leaving the Pacers with yet another slot to fill. Bird brought the Pacers some stability and perspective at a time they sorely needed it, so his tenure was a success in that regard. His confidence in Jalen Rose helped Rose develop into a much better player. See you, Larry! Thanks for bringing the Pacers a little more pride and a finals appearance. I only wish we could have earned you one more ring.
On the other hand, though, Bird wasn't much of a strategist when it came to match-ups with particular teams and to in-game adjustments, so the Pacers could maybe improve here. I haven't heard an official announcement, but all signs point to Isiah Thomas as Indiana's next coach.
Before deciding who the Pacers should pick with their first round pick, let's first evaluate what they already have, by position.
RIK SMITS was among the better centers in the league for a couple of years, but he has never been among the best and injuries to his feet have taken their toll. Rik has talked of retirement for a couple of years, and we may need to replace him sooner rather than later. He is also a free agent, without much prospect of moving.
SAM PERKINS has been the most frequent reserve filling Smits' position this year, and all the minutes he's played the last two years have taken their toll on Sam. He almost certainly will retire during the off-season.
Dale Davis sometimes slid over to play the middle with Smits on the bench, but that usually signaled a small line-up without a true center. ZAN TABAK is the nominal third-stringer, and he played very little this year.
DALE DAVIS blossomed a bit this year, with extra minutes freed up by the trade of Antonio Davis. Always a good defender, a great rebounder, and an accurate shooter, Dale this year took more offensive load on his shoulders and extended his shooting range a few feet. He was rewarded with his first All-Star selection. Dale is still relatively young (by Pacer standards :-) and has a few good years left as the starter here.
AUSTIN CROSHERE has been the nominal back-up at PF, but he is better suited to play most of his minutes at small forward. GREG FOSTER is a potential back-up, though Greg is sometime listed as a center.
JALEN ROSE became the man in this slot last year. He became the first player not named Reggie Miller to lead the Pacers in scoring since Chuck "The Rifleman" Person in the late '80s. Jalen can drive and shoot, and his offensive skills took some of the load off of Miller this season. That said, Rose still fancies himself a point guard, and the Pacers have plenty at this position, so he may have a chance to slide down to shooting guard or maybe even the point in the future.
AUSTIN CROSHERE came alive this season and in the play-offs showed everyone that he has a real future in the league. Austin is fearless, can shoot the long ball, and hustles for the ball all the time. If Rose slides to guard, Austin inherits this slot; if not, the Pacers will have a hard time finding enough minutes for a guy who probably deserves a chance to start at this point in his career. Croshere is a free agent, so they will have to convince him soon of his role as a major player for us in the future, or he will bolt to another team.
AL HARRINGTON has the size and maybe the strength to play at PF, but he has the mind and game of a small forward. JONATHAN BENDER may play some minutes here down the line, but he may be better suited to playing shooting guard.
CHRIS MULLIN, the Pacer starter here the last coupe of years, saw his playing time disappear this year in the face of so much young talent. I expect him to retire or at least not play a serious role with the Pacers again. Sorry, Chris--I wish we could have gotten you a ring, too.
REGGIE! REGGIE! REGGIE! Despite not showing his trademark playoff heroics quite as impressively this year, Miller showed that he still has a bit of ball in him. His role on the team decreased a bit as Jalen Rose carried more of the offensive load, but that was good, as it allowed Reggie to save himself a bit for the playoffs. Still the best dead-eye in the league, Reggie has never created his own offense and so benefited from what Jalen brought to the floor. Reggie is also a free agent and, despite rumblings that he might sign elsewhere, I expect him to be a Pacer in the fall.
JALEN ROSE plays minutes at SG, too, and may ultimately move here permanently. JONATHAN BENDER is probably the future at this spot, but he is just one year out of high school and not yet ready for prime time.
MARK JACKSON has been a warrior for the Pacers. His post-up game and penetrate-and-dish have earned him a spot in pretty elite company as an assist man. But the years are showing on Mark's performance, and he has become a real liability on defense. This year, Larry Bird often went with TRAVIS BEST, the back-up point, in the crucial 4th quarter. Travis is a better defender than Jackson, and his offensive potential has always been there. He still has the tendency to dribble the shot clock away and leave the Pacers to force a bad shot. But this duo has done the Pacers well for a few years.
JALEN ROSE wants to be a point guard, and who knows? This probably isn't the position that maximizes his contribution, but the Pacers' backlog of young players at 2 and 3 make a potential move to the point less implausible.
GM DONNIE WALSH has done a marvelous building this team, slowly and steadily. He hasn't yet brought in a marquee free agent--and there are always rumors from over-eager fans that Grant Hill or some such will come to the Circle City--but Walsh has found contributors both in the draft and in the market. Chris Mullin, Sam Perkins, and Byron Scott gave us a few good years, Mark Jackson was a steal in trade, Derrick McKey was just what the Pacers needed when we acquired him, and we pulled Jalen Rose out of Denver for almost nothing. Smits and Miller were foundation draft picks of the past, and Best, Croshere, Harrington, Bender, and Foster will be part of the Pacers future.
Had Larry Bird chosen to stay with the Pacer front office, Donnie's role may have been diminished, but Larry walked.
The Pacers don't have a coach, but all signs point to ISIAIH THOMAS, including his own lobbying for the position on NBC. :-) Many fans are disappointed that Byron Scott won't have a chance to coach Indiana. He has learned the coaching trade since retiring, and he always served as surrogate coach as a player for us. Some are concerned that hiring a second consecutive Hall of Fame player with no coaching experience in Thomas will stunt our development. I don't really know, but I will tell you this: I trust Donnie Walsh to make a good choice. He isn't a perfect judge of talent, but his track record is pretty good and has given the Pacers chances most teams never get.
Strangely enough, the Pacers are in transition while seemingly near the top of the league. They have built toward a championship for a decade, slowly getting closer. But now they have several players whose best contributions are behind them, they six free agents and perhaps not enough PT to make everyone happy, they face several imminent retirements, and they have no coach. But the future is not yet dark with Rose, Best, Croshere, Harrington, Bender, and Foster eager to assume more active roles and with veterans such as Miller, Davis, Smits, and Jackson not yet finished.
Our biggest need is for beef, big beef, beef capable of playing the middle. Point guard is another open question, but Best and maybe Rose will fill the bill for a couple of years. Finding great centers and points in the draft position the Pacers have these days is not easy...
II. MY SELECTION (and an explanation)
I decided not even to consider a point guard at this position in the draft. The need isn't great enough, and the supply not available. The Pacers need a big man, capable of playing 4 and 5. They'd like to have someone who can contribute immediately, but that is usually a long shot this deep in the draft.
I chose Brown because of his size, his youth, and his defense. He has the size and strength to someday be a legitimate NBA center. He just finished his second year in college, at Indian Hills Community College, and so is still young enough to develop more. At Indian Hills, Brown showed that he can rebound, block shots, and play some defense. His offensive game is underdeveloped, but he can certainly learn that part of the game. Ernest isn't likely to contribute immediately, but he is less of a project than the other options yet still has an upside.
III. OTHERS CONSIDERED (and why considered)
Primoz Brezec, 7'0", from Slovenia: I've heard a lot of talk touting this guy, but he's still a big question mark. He moves better than Smits (who doesn't?), but his camp performances have left many of the talent evaluators cold. I'm not interested in another way-long-term project; the Pacers have tried that with several centers in the past and wasted too much time without arriving at a big man who can play.
Jamaal Magliore, 6'10", from Kentucky: I know about Magloire than the other big men available, but I'm not all that impressed. He isn't likely to be a center in the NBA; he's more likely a power forward. Davis is fine at PF for us, and we really need someone who can back up both Davis and Smits. Maybe Magliore could play an Antonio Davis-type role for the Pacers, but I'd rather tilt toward a possible center.
Soumaila Samake, 7'1": I know very little about this guy. I've seen reports that he can block shots but, at this point, not do much else. He is very raw--another long-term project for a team aging quickly.
Dan McClintock, 7'0", from Northern Arizona: McClintock's big coming out was leading NAU to an NCAA berth this year. They challenged Arizona, but that's not enough to make McClintock a true NBA talent. He moves poorly and, while scoring well in college, faces an uphill battle in the NBA. Yet another risky project.
IV. WHO THE TEAM WILL PROBABLY TAKE
I have no idea. Walsh and his new coach will make this decision, and Walsh certainly knows more about the little-known big men than I. He also knows more about the free agent signing prospects the Pacers face. I expect the Pacers to take a big man, and much will depend on (1) who is left at #27 and (2) how well some of these guys grade out in their try-outs.
V. OTHER MOVES THE TEAM SHOULD MAKE
Indiana has six free agents, and several are crucial. They must sign Croshere and Rose find ways to keep Bender, and Harrington happy with their long-term outlook on the team. We should try to sign Smits and Miller, but probably at reduced prices. I hope that they would rather make another run with an improved Pacer team than try to play out their string elsewhere.
I believe that Indiana has some cap room on a sign-and-trade deal left over from the Antonio Davis deal, but they need to use it soon before it expires. I'm hesitant to move any the good young talent unless the Pacers can acquire a player that makes them legitimate challengers for the title *next year*.
Oh, and sign Grant Hill. :-)
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