Playoff Result: Lost Eastern Conference Finals
Key Additions: Danny Granger (injury), Luis Scola (trade), C.J. Watson (free agent), Chris Copeland (free agent), Solomon Hill (draft), Rasual Butler (sent from heaven)
Key Losses: Tyler Hansbrough (free agent), D.J. Augustin (but that’s a good thing), Miles Plumlee (trade), Gerald Green (trade)
Projected 2013-14 Record: 54-28 (2nd in East)*
What to Expect: The Pacers postseason last year is very reminiscent to when Robby Kalland and I were walking the strip together at Las Vegas Summer League. The way the building are built, in both shape and sheer size, you can really believe you are a 15 minute walk away when really there was still an hour worth of travel before you actually arrived at Treasure Island, Caeser’s Palace, or wherever your destination was for the night. Robby would look at me and go “The Venetian is right there Cole, just a little be longer.” Before too long, Robby, while exhausted from walking in the Vegas heat, would be wondering “why isn’t The Venetian getting any closer!” while I’m staring it down with hunger in my mind.
The fact is, the Pacers were really close to actually upsetting the Miami Heat. They took them to seven games, and were a LeBron buzzer beating layup away from taking game one. While they lost by the closest of margins and feel on the cusp, they actually are farther away than that margin would normally suggest. The hurdle from taking a team seven games to actually beating them can be an hour trudge disguised in a quick 15 minute walk. The Heat still have LeBron, Wade, and Bosh, and nothing the Pacers could have done under the CBA this offseason could bridge that gap into becoming the Eastern Conference favorites.
What the Pacers did do this offseason however, can classified as nice. They didn’t hit a homerun with any of their moves, but swinging for a homerun is terribly hard for where they finished in the standings and how much money they had to play with. Luis Scola is bound to be put in Tyler Hansbrough’s role, and while Scola doesn’t have much experience in a bench role, he is overall a more talented basketball player than Hansbrough and came with only a 1.5 million dollar bigger price tag. C.J. Watson also isn’t exactly the kind of move that fans salivate over, but is a very solid addition. Watson is a solid ball handler and a good shooter, neither of those qualities could be found on the Pacers bench last year. Lastly, Chris Copeland’s role is far from set in stone, but adding more depth in the shooting department is always a plus for a squad that finished 22nd in 3PT% last season.
What really seals the deal this offseason is that a lot of the Pacers problems might go away now that they are no longer leaning on Augustin or Green for minutes. Neither signing panned out at all last season, and it was good to watch the front office nip that in the bud right away
The biggest question mark comes in the form of Danny Granger. Will he be detrimental to the chemistry displayed last year, or will he fit in just as nicely around the other pieces? It will all come down to Granger’s approach within the team’s offense.
Matchup with the Hawks: The Hawks actually pushed around the Pacers for a large part of their playoff series last season, but much of that success came behind Josh Smith swallowing up Paul George while the Hawks were on defense. This year the dynamic of the matchup is much different without Smoove. The frontcourts of both teams are equally potent. The Al Horford-Roy Hibbert matchup will certainly be the most important, as both are very talented, but stylistic polar opposite, centers. Horford saw a lot of time at the power forward last year against the Pacers, as the Pacers were a prime team for the Hawks to utilize their big lineup against. This year, we will likely see the two go toe-to-toe more often where Horford can exploit the stoic big man with his swift foot-speed.
On the wings, it is hard to vouch for Atlanta. As nice of players Kyle Korver, Lou Williams, and Demarre Carroll are, they are up against two former All-Stars in Paul George and Danny Granger. The Hawks will need to rely on Lou torching Lance Stephenson off the bench to lessen the ground that likely will be lost. Where Atlanta can gain really bridge the wing gap is at point guard. George Hill is a nice player, but Jeff Teague should progress to the point in his career where this should be a plus matchup for Atlanta. Plus, Dennis Schröder bottle-necking both Hill – who doesn’t have the stickiest of handles – and Watson should be a boost off the bench.
The Pacers are an uphill battle for Atlanta, but not one that is insurmountable for the team. Atlanta should hope to take at least one against them this season, and should hope it comes behind some stellar play from Teague. Playing a team like this could be vital for Jeff taking that next step, and his future down the road for his future with the team.
*predicted record based on Bo’s ESPN Forecast projections for every team