Indiana Pacers need better bench play to take next step

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The Sports Bank will be counting down to the opening tip of the 2012-13 NBA season with team by team previews starting with the worst and working our way to the title contenders.  There is no lockout this time around so let’s get going.

Since the Chicago Bulls are without Derrick Rose, the Indiana Pacers become the new team to beat in the Central Division.  Indy made a major leap last season but do they have enough to reach the next level in the Eastern Conference?

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NBA Power Rankings: #23 Indiana Pacers

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by: David Kay

2008-09 Season Summary:
While the Pacers missed the post-season for the third straight season, there was optimism for this team at the end of the year. Danny Granger took the “leap,” developing into an All-Star and finishing fifth in the league in scoring while Troy Murphy quietly put together one of the most unappreciated seasons of any player in the league, setting the team record for double-doubles and total rebounds. Rookies Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush made promising strides throughout the season, and don’t forget, Mike Dunleavy missed 64 games due to bones spurs in his knee. With the talent they had in house, Indiana probably met expectations.

Depth Chart:
C: Roy Hibbert/Jeff Foster/Solomon Jones
PF: Troy Murphy/Tyler Hansbrough/Josh McRoberts
SF: Danny Granger/Mike Dunleavy
SG: Brandon Rush/Dahntay Jones/Luther Head
PG: T.J. Ford/Earl Watson/Travis Diener/A.J. Price

Head Coach: Jim O’Brien (3rd year)

2009-2010 Team Salary:
$65.8 million
Projected 2010-2011 Team Salary: approximately $62.5 million

Off-Season Grade: Barely Passed
Indiana needed to get more defensive and athletic this off-season.  They drafted a proven winner and tough nosed player in Tyler Hansbrough but he certainly doesn’t scream athleticism.  Adding Dahntay Jones and Earl Watson via free agency gives the Pacers some needed depth in their backcourt especially since they decided not to match the Raptors’ offer to restricted free agent Jarrett Jack.  I can’t say the Pacers improved very much this off-season which is why they receive a barely passing grade.

They really didn’t have much room to work though.  There was no cap space flexibility and the Pacers do not have any true assets to trade as they still have a few bad contracts on their roster.  At least they finally parted ways with Jamaal Tinsley, but having to cut him yet still account for his salary under their cap and get nothing in return has to be a loss.

2009-2010 Outlook:
diener-marqThis is the least sexy team in the NBA.  Outside of Danny Granger, there isn’t a single player on this roster I would pay to see play.  (Well, maybe Travis Diener, but only because I am a Marquette alum.)  The Pacers have a serious lack of athleticism and will have to play a slowed down, half-court game whenever possible.  They were one of the worst defensive teams in the league last season, but the additions of Hansbrough, Jones, and Watson should help improve that statistic.

What the Pacers really need is a wing man for Granger who has proven to be an All-Star caliber player.  Murphy had a very solid season last year but is not going to be the number two option on any playoff contender.  Dunleavy is returning from injury and may miss a chunk of the season early on and T.J. Ford has never been a consistent scoring threat.  If Brandon Rush can develop into a true scoring option, there is a slim chance Indiana could compete for a playoff spot.

Looking Ahead to the Summer of 2010:
There is really nothing to look ahead to in terms of next off-season.  The Pacers will be well above the cap and have little flexibility to sign free agents except for their mid-level.  However, the summer of 2011 will be interesting.  That is when bloated contracts like Dunleavy, Murphy, Foster, Ford, and Jamaal Tinsley (FINALLY) will be off the books.  With a lot of teams likely focusing on next summer, Indiana might be one of the major players in the 2011 off-season.