After two consecutive mediocre seasons, it looked as if the Pacers were ready to contend for the Eastern Conference after they started the season 14-2 and had the best record at the in the conference at the All-Star break. But now, after their extremely disappointing and frustrating loss to the Celtics in the first round, the future success of the franchise is in question because of the potential loss of their top two players and team leader.
Reggie Miller, Brad Miller,
Eric Strickland, and most importantly Jermaine O’Neal are unrestricted free agents this offseason.
Team President Donnie Walsh is said to make personnel decisions for the Pacers, but this offseason he is handing over his job to O’Neal. Jermaine wants Reggie to come back? Done. He wants Ron Artest gone? Artest will probably be on the next flight out to Minneapolis in part of a deal for Terrell Brandon’s expiring contract. He wants Jamaal Tinsley to be replaced? This will be more difficult, but Walsh will try. My feeling is that O’Neal will come back, but he has expressed interest in San Antonio and Orlando. It would be surprising not to see Brad Miller resign, but he too is drawing plenty of interest on the open market.
If the Pacers resign their free agents and keep Ron Artest, they would have to be considered a favorite for Eastern Conference champs next year along with Detroit, especially if Jason Kidd does not resign with the Nets. An upgrade at point guard would help, but Tinsley is a decent player. Most of all, the Pacers need to be healthy, or in Ron Artest’s case, not suspended.
This is probably the weakest spot on the team, and definitely the one that gets the most blame when something goes wrong.
Jamaal Tinsley is a borderline starter, but he is young and will hopefully continue to improve.
Tim Hardaway was brought in late in the regular season to be his backup and provide leadership when the team finally found out
Erick Strickland was not a point guard. Jamison Brewer rarely gets off the pine, but Donnie Walsh felt confident enough in him to resign him last week. Artest occasionally played point during crunch time.
Reggie Miller was the starter here and played 30 minutes a game, although he should have been coming off the bench. Artest should have started here with
Al Harrington as the starting SF. Reggie has been the Pacers biggest star and best player for a very long time, but at nearly 38 any contract and playing time management gives him will just be appreciation for what he has done for the team, not a reflection on his current abilities.
Ron Mercer came off the bench to provide a scoring spark, and
Erick Strickland and Ron Artest played some time here as well. Strickland deserves to be resigned after doing well in limited minutes last season. Rookie
Fred Jones appeared in 19 games and scored 23 points.
Ron Artest was the team’s second leading scorer and was the runner-up to defensive player of the year Ben Wallace in his breakout season, but was snubbed from the All-Star team and All-Defensive 1st team because of his flagrant fouls, suspensions, and general insanity on the court. His year included being fined $35,000 and suspended 3 games for throwing a camera and television monitor after a loss to the Knicks, suspended 4 games for bumping Pat Riley, getting into a fight at an All-Star weekend party, tackling Eric Snow, fined $20,000 for flipping off a group of fans that allegedly threw a quarter at him, pushing Mel Daniels after losing to the Celtics, and getting multiple other suspensions for flagrant foul points. Artest ran away with the league lead in flagrants, collecting 9, but finished in a disappointing tie for 6th with only 14 technical fouls.
Jon Bender had yet another injury plagued season, but did show he was ready to take on more minutes next season.
Al Harrington split some time here as well.
This was the Pacers strongest position, in a conference that does not have many quality big men.
Jermaine O’Neal was a superstar last season and he is not even 25 years old. If he stays with the Pacers, they will be contenders for as long as he is here.
Al Harrington is the Pacers best reserve player and was a contender for 6th man of the year. The departure of Brad Miller or Ron Artest wouldn’t be much of a set back because he is ready to become a very good player.
Austin Croshere deserves more playing time, but he is behind O’Neal, Harrington, Artest, and Bender. When he is on the court, he is one of the team’s few 3-point shooting threats. The Pacers have been trying to trade him for the last two years, but haven’t found any takers because of his big salary.
Primoz Brezec hasn’t had much playing time, but he doesn’t deserve it either.
Jeff Foster occasionally fills in here.
Brad Miller had a breakout season and made his 1st All-Star team last seson. He showed he is a top 5 center and is a huge advantage over the often horrible opposing centers in the Eastern Conference. However, he did not have a very good playoff and appeared to be slipping towards the end of the season because of nagging injuries.
Jeff Foster comes off the bench to provide energy and is a BEAST rebounder when he plays. He finished 2nd in the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes with almost 17.
Draft Pick Considerations
Brian Cook – The best player available, can score and rebound
Maurice Williams – A point guard who can penetrate and score is a primary need
Zaur Pachulia – Pacers need some more depth in the frontcourt that can rebound and block shots in the paint.
Brian Cook, PF,
As the Pacers GM, I will take Brian Cook even though he does not play a position of need for the Pacers. He is the “best player available,” and would allow the team to move some of their other forwards or provide insurance in case O’Neal would leave. He was also invited to the green room, so someone must like him.