New season, new faces, same goal. The Indiana Pacers came within one game of upsetting the defending champions last season and making their first Finals appearance since 2000. They’ve achieved success, but the 2013-2014 season will be about achieving greatness.
Entering the season, the Pacers are easily a Top 5 NBA team along with the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, and Oklahoma City Thunder. Many will argue the Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn Nets, and Houston Rockets could easily be Top 5, but those teams have a lot to prove after their offseason makeovers.
Chemistry is something the Pacers exuded last season. Other than the Spurs, it would be hard to find another team who functioned as a whole, not solely relying on the same one or two players every night. But their chemistry will be slightly tested this year with Danny Granger. While Granger played alongside the rest of the starters during the 2011-2012 season, this is a completely different squad now. Paul George has become the franchise centerpiece, David West has become the heart and soul of the team, and Roy Hibbert has supplanted himself as the third-best player on the team.
A lot has changed in two seasons.
If Granger returns to the starting lineup, that means Lance Stephenson would return to the bench as the team’s sixth man. With Granger out last season, Stephenson decided to have his own career year as part of the starting lineup. He fed off the rest of the starters and provided the high paced energy they needed at times. If he does return to the bench, he will still need to provide that same energy and not succumb to the same mentality that caused Tyler Hansbrough’s game to suffer.
The other new/old face that returned to the Pacers was Larry Bird. After his year-long hiatus Bird returned to finish what he started, and his first objective was to retool the bench that Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard created which was overpaid and underperformed.
Bird began his bench makeover by drafting Solomon Hill out of Arizona. Hill played the power forward position in college, but will transition to small forward in the NBA. While he will likely see more D-League time than NBA time, if Granger’s knee continues to have problems Hill will be able to provide valuable minutes off the bench when needed.
The Pacers’ first new free agent signing was veteran journeyman C.J. Watson. Watson’s coming off a decent season with the Nets where he backed up Deron Williams. Watson will be a great addition to the bench because he understands the role perfectly. While he is more of a scorer, 7.6 ppg versus 2.5 apg for his career, he should see his assist average rise on this Pacers squad.
Then the Pacers signed Chris Copeland right out from under the Knicks who couldn’t afford to re-sign him. Last year was Copeland’s rookie season in the NBA, despite being 29-years-old, but that didn’t stop him from displaying his three-point sharpshooting skills. The Pacers bench had trouble scoring, so the addition of Copeland is perfect since the Pacers love to space the floor and shoot the three.
Bird saved his best magic trick for last. While doing the sports talk radio rounds he informed the world that the Pacers were involved in trade talks, but wouldn’t divulge any more information. A few weeks later, Bird introduced Luis Scola as the newest member of the Indiana Pacers. Scola’s career averages of 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds make him a perfect backup for West. He is essentially West 1.5 – exactly what the Pacers’ wanted Hansbrough to become.
On paper, the Pacers look to have the best chance to dethrone the Miami Heat in the East. If the bench is truly upgraded, Granger returns healthy and fits back in seamlessly, and the team can stay healthy, then there is no reason this Pacers squad should fall short of a championship this year.