Offseason Grades: Indiana Pacers
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson, Donald Sloan, Solomon Hill (No. 23 in the 2013 draft)
Losses: Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin, Jeff Pendergraph, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, Sam Young, Ben Hansbrough
Other moves: Re-signed David West
What Went Right: The much-needed reshaping of Indiana’s bench. The Pacers are coming off of two consecutive seasons of miserable reserve play, the most recent of which likely cost them a place in the NBA Finals. That shouldn’t be the case next season as Indiana spent much of the summer picking up quality rotation pieces to complement one of the best starting lineups in basketball. Scola is the most recognizable of these additions. The 6-foot-9 forward, who averaged 12.8 points per game last season, should help steady a flaky second-unit offense. Indy suffered with an overmatched ball-handler (in backup PG D.J. Augustin) and a glaring lack of go-to scoring options off the bench last season. Scola only partially addresses that problem, but his low-post presence and high-post passing are welcome additions.
He’ll be aided by Watson, a 6-2 combo guard who is more versatile — and decidedly better — than his predecessor (Augustin). In terms of defensive ability, the disparity between the two is huge; Watson is a formidable obstacle for opponents at their offense’s point of initiation, whereas Augustin often seemed to be politely ushering offensive players into open lanes. Offensively, the two are stylistically similar, albeit with Watson just a bit better in every regard—a better creator, a better passer, a better shooter. Like Scola, Watson is only part of the answer, but he’s such a simple, seamless improvement over what came before that he can only help the team.
Copeland, too, should prove valuable, especially for his inimitable ability to create decent offensive looks out of otherwise bungled possessions. The 6-9 forward is a floor-stretching shooter who can help create working room for others (particularly post players like Scola, West and Roy Hibbert) while spotting up. Copeland is also a decent enough last-ditch offensive option that he could play a role in patchwork lineups.
Ultimately, though, the Pacers benefitted from a return to normalcy—both via the re-signing of power forward West and the long-awaited return of sharpshooting forward Danny Granger. The former allows Indiana to keep its balanced, high-functioning starting lineup intact, while the latter affords Pacers head coach Frank Vogel all kinds of rotational options. The 6-8 Granger isn’t often considered as anything more than trade bait after essentially spending a year out of the lineup with knee injuries, but in even decent form he could be a transformational asset to bridge the starters and reserves. He’s a volume shot creator (who’s averaged 18.1 points per game for his career) and an underrated defender who could be valuable in nearly every context. Indiana doesn’t need Granger to be the player he was, only one who can help balance some of the team’s more stilted lineup combinations.
What Went Wrong: Nothing, really, save perhaps for a few matters of taste. One could argue that two first-round picks (if we include Miles Plumlee, who was the 26th choice in 2012) was a steep price to pay for the 33-year-old Scola, who is coming off an underwhelming season, or that Indiana should have tried to flip Granger for some other asset. The former is likely true, but teams this good can typically get away with trading future assets for short-term ones. The trade for Scola was an understandable deal given the Pacers’ second-unit struggles, and one that will likely only cost them a passed-on prospect (Plumlee), a cast-off wing (Gerald Green, included for salary reasons), and a protected pick (likely in the early-mid 20s of the 2014 draft). The cost is not insubstantial, but it’s also a tolerable tax for a contender looking to win a championship.
The wisdom of moving Granger, on the other hand, is dubious at best—largely because Granger’s internal worth dwarfs his market value. It would have been easy to ride the trade machine to a deal that would have upgraded the Pacers at the cost of shipping out Granger, but the return wouldn’t be worth it. His contract is large and expiring, further defining his market value (he can’t be acquired as a long-term competitive asset, nor at some easy-to-swallow price), to the point that a potential deal would be even more difficult to complete. Beyond that is Granger’s wild-card value to Indiana; it may have seemed as though the Pacers had moved on following his injury, but they could make great use of his offensive dynamism if he’s able to contribute consistently. Keeping him around was the right move and could pay off handsomely for an established contender.
Grade: B. Indiana improved its rotation intelligently while on a budget, something that should greatly benefit its starting five. Smart work from a sharp front office.