Monday, May 19, 2008

The Quick Blueprint for Fixing the Pacers

According to Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Newspaper Monopoly, sorry I mean Star, he has the blueprint for helping make Larry Bird’s three-step plan come to fruition. The Pacers are in a world of hurt right now. They have a decent, but not team-changing first-round pick at number 11 meaning they could get a good player, but probably not a right-now impact player. They are over the salary cap as usual. They have too many high-priced, high-injury players on their roster that they would love to trade but will most likely find few takers. To top it off, their players are developing a rap sheet to start rivaling the Bengals and Cowboys.

Let’s take a look at what Mike has on tap to fix the Pacers…

As ball bounces, so go the Pacers

Bird's plan to fix team launches Tuesday with the NBA draft lottery

Larry Bird has a three-step process to improve the Indiana Pacers.

Well, at least it is not a 12-step program.

How soon the Pacers take advantage of the first step, the draft, will be determined as early as Tuesday when they find out if luck is on their side during the NBA's draft lottery. Bird, in his first offseason with sole control of basketball decisions, said the Pacers plan to use the draft, free agency and trades to try to end their two-year hiatus from the playoffs.

You know, like every other freaking team in the NBA. I see nothing revelation revealing here so far. Nothing to see here people…keep reading…

The Pacers can speed up the process if the ping-pong balls bounce their way in the lottery, which Bird and new general manager David Morway will attend.

I miss the days of the NBA lottery when they put the envelopes with the team placards in a hopper and David Stern pulled the “blank” envelopes out one by one. You know the
one…the “fixed” draft lottery in 1985 when the Knicks got the first pick and the Pacers got “hosed”. Who wants to leave something this important to chance and some ping pong balls?

The Pacers are slotted to pick 11th. They have about a 1 percent chance of winning one of the top three picks in the June 26 draft. There is also a small chance they could fall to No. 12, 13 or 14.

There is also a 1 percent chance they can make the playoffs next year. But, there is a 99 percent chance a Pacers player will be arrested by the time the playoffs roll around next year. Bets anyone?

The Pacers won't be big spenders on the free agent market because they are over the salary cap. Pulling off a trade won't be easy, either, because they don't have an enticing roster.

Too bad Isaiah Thomas isn’t with the Knicks anymore. He was probably the one person Larry could talk into taking the dead weight off the Pacers’ roster. The Pacers need a team like the Tennessee Titans. The Titans keep signing the Colts’ free agents that are mediocre at best. Makes me laugh every time I see them sign another Colts reject.

The Pacers' situation isn't ideal, but it isn't unique.

Playoff teams Atlanta, Utah and New Orleans were in a similar situation after the 2004-05 season. Each rebuilt through the draft, free agency or trades.

The Hawks and Hornets spent a long time outside the playoffs and had plenty of drafts, free agents and trades in order to get to where they are now. It was not just the past three seasons. Utah struggled after John Stockton retired and Karl Malone left and bottomed out in 2004-05 season.

As the Pacers try to retool, here are three blueprints to follow:

New Orleans

In 2004-05: 18-64.

Now? Contending for spot in Western Conference finals.

How: The Hornets' future changed when they drafted franchise player Chris Paul No. 4 overall in the 2005 draft. The Hornets, who had the fourth lowest payroll in the league at $32.1 million at the end of the 2005-06 season, gave Paul a perimeter threat when they offered former Pacer Peja Stojakovic a five-year, $64-million deal minutes after the start of free agency in 2006. They agreed to a trade with Chicago four days later that brought Paul's alley-oop partner Tyson Chandler to New Orleans. Fifth-year forward David West improved his scoring average each season and made first All-Star appearance this season. The Hornets finished with the second-best record in the Western Conference and are a win from playing in the conference finals.

The Hornets have turned themselves into quite a powerhouse and have the players that can keep them at the top for a while. The Hornets were able to draft a MVP worthy player in Chris Paul with the #4 pick in 2005 and surround him with the right kind of players to make a formidable team. They had salary cap room and trade-able players. Kudos to the Hornets front office.


In 2004-05: 13-69.

Now: Reached playoffs for first time since 1999.

How: Like New Orleans, Atlanta used the draft and two key trades to rebuild. The Hawks whiffed by passing on Paul and Deron Williams, but their plethora of lottery picks -- Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Al Horford -- finally paid off this season. The biggest move came when they acquired Joe Johnson in a sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix in August 2005. Johnson has been an All-Star each of the past two seasons. They shored up their point guard spot when they traded for veteran Mike Bibby in February. The result was the Hawks pushing the Boston Celtics, who had the best regular season record, to seven games in the first round and establishing themselves as a young team on the rise.

Yes, the Hawks have improved and yes, they made the playoffs, but they finished with a below .500 record at 37-45 and only made the playoffs because they are in the Eastern Conference. The eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference were 50-31 for crying out loud. They may have finished better than the Pacers, but it is not like they are necessarily going to light up the East next year.


In 2004-05: 26-56.

Now? Reached second round of Western Conference playoffs.

How: All-Star Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur arrived in 2004-05 as free agents and still are there. So is Andrei Kirilenko, so the Jazz didn't need as much revamping as fine-tuning. The biggest difference is at point guard, an area the Jazz had sorely lacked in since future Hall of Famer John Stockton retired in 2003. Utah fixed that problem when it picked Deron Williams at No. 3 in 2005. The Jazz have made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, including getting to the Western Conference finals last season.

The Jazz only had one losing season this decade and that was in 2004-05. They found the piece they needed in Williams to help turn the team around and have had a winning record since.

What all three of these teams had in common that the Pacers currently don’t? The fact that all three had a top 4 pick in 2005! What pick do the Pacers currently have? The 11th with a 1 percent chance of making that a top 3 pick.

The Hawks have had five first round picks in the last four years with an average pick of 5.4. Actually, the average pick is 4 if you base it on picks not including those as part of trades. Personally I think you should be better than Hawks have been with where the Hawks have drafted.

The Jazz last four drafts average first round draft pick is 14 while the Hornets average first round draft pick is 11.75. Basically middle of the road and benefited from the top 4 picks in 2005.

The Pacers have had only three first round picks in past four years since last year’s first round pick went to Atlanta at #11. The Pacers average first round draft pick average for the last four years is 21.

So Mike, your blueprints for retooling mainly hedge on the need to have a top 4 pick in the draft along with free agent signings (the Pacers are over the salary cap) and trades (of which no one wants the players we need to trade). While your blueprint may be the right path for the Pacers, they are 0 for 3 on your blueprint.

I have a blueprint for becoming a millionaire which is buy a lottery ticket (so about the same chance as winning as the Pacers getting a top 3 pick), schmoozing with Bill Gates (need to figure a way around the restraining order) and robbing a bank (notice my picture is not available, don’t want to be traced). I am 1 for 3 on my blueprint, but those damn ping pong balls are just conspiring against me in the lottery.

So I figure I have a much chance of becoming a millionaire as the Pacers do off turning their team around right now.

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