July 13, 2009
Year after year, summer after summer, it becomes less and less clear just what the Indiana Pacers are up to.
They're not rebuilding, I don't think, but shouldn't they be rebuilding? When you haven't made the playoffs in what has been the weaker of the two conferences since 2006, and you barely made it that year and the year previous, shouldn't you have a rebuilding plan in place that goes beyond "sign Al Harrington(notes)?"
It doesn't mean all of Pacer jefe Larry Bird's moves have been bad moves, they've just been dull moves. Moves meant to pull 45 wins if everything goes right. And nothing has gone right.
The latest move has been the push to pay Dahntay Jones(notes) through his prime kicking and pushing years. It's an awful contract, even at the cheap price of four years and $11 million, because what Jones does is so utterly replaceable.
He gets the reputation as a defensive stopper, but last year's Nuggets were actually better defensively with him off the floor (and way better offensively). George Karl just liked the idea of starting the tough guy over the mercurial J.R. Smith(notes), so he kept up the charade.
And Jones is yet another Pacer who is essentially in his prime, alongside Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Troy Murphy(notes). T.J. Ford(notes) is 25, he's a little way off, as is Danny Granger(notes), but these next two years are pretty much it.
The Pacers are packed in with tons of salary for the next two seasons, but beyond 2011-12, they have only Granger, Jones, Brandon Rush(notes), Roy Hibbert(notes) and Tyler Hansbrough(notes) on the books. And the last three will be on rookie deals. That's around $20 million in contracts, and even with the Incredibly Shrinking Cap in place, that's still a fair amount of cap space to work with in the summer of 2012.
All last year I clamored for fans to pay attention to this team. They were truly fun to watch, they worked hard, and they lost (and won) a ton of close games. But I don't think fair-weather Pacer fans are declining to come out to see the Pacers because of what Stephen Jackson(notes) did in a parking lot, or what Ron Artest(notes) did in a lower-level bowl.
No, I think fans aren't coming out to see this team because they're broke, mostly, but also because they probably know better. And "a fun time out" is probably taking a back seat to "Murphy sort of looks like my brother-in-law, but I don't really think he's a cornerstone worth paying for."
As good as Murphy was last year, and he was great, even fair-weather fans can sniff mediocrity a mile away. And the entertainment factor, if I'm honest, is dulled quite a bit by the non-stop pounding you get from the Conseco Fieldhouse entertainment division. Annoying DJs, MCs, ear-splitting music, canned noise, the works. All bouncing off of what might be the nicest building in the NBA.
I wouldn't be shocked for a second if the Pacers did peel off 45 wins, or more, this season. Granger is that good, the surrounding parts can play, and Jones will help defensively if he's used properly.
It's just that, if the rebuilding plan really is for 2012, then it is coming about seven years too late. And in a business, to say nothing of a competitive league where windows are slim, this is way too late.