With renewed hope and high expectations, the Indiana Pacers will finally kick off their 2013-2014 campaign on Oct. 29 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against the Orlando Magic. After coming within a single game of the NBA Finals last season, the Pacers are "all in" this time around, according to team president Larry Bird, who claims to have signed every player the team went after this offseason. These include securing a new 3-year deal with veteran power forward David West, signing the future face of the franchise, Paul George, to a max extension, and acquiring key role players such as CJ Watson, Chris Copeland and Luis Scola to bolster their bench, the team's biggest weakness from the last couple of years.
Throw in the return of former leading scorer Danny Granger, who missed all but 5 games last season and underwent knee surgery in April, and taking into account the continued development of George Hill, Paul George, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson, there is a good reason why the Pacers are optimistic about their chances of toppling the two-time defending champions Miami Heat this year.
That said, the Heat, who lost Mike Miller but added injury-prine Greg Oden and pothead Michael Beasley to their lineup this offseason, are far from the only obstacles in the Pacers' way. Derrick Rose is back and looking more explosive than ever in Chicago, the Brooklyn Nets added aging Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to its All-Star core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, and New York, last season's No. 2 seed, has added shooting big man Andre Bargnani. And that's just in the Eastern Conference.
Out West, Dwight Howard has joined James Harden and the Houston Rockets, instantly shifting them into title contention. Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers (recognized as one of the best coaches in the league) has replaced Vinny Del Negro (recognized as one of the worst coaches ever) in LA for the Clippers, which also added shooting prowess via JJ Reddick, a solid backup PG in former Pacer Darren Collison and veteran leadership in Antawn Jamison. Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors have taken another step towards serious contention with the addition of versatile swingman Andre Iguadala and will bring back former All-Star center Andrew Bogut from injury. Russell Westbrook will also be back from injury, making the Oklahoma City Thunder a Finals favorite again, and the Memphis Grizzlies added a healthy Mike Miller to ignite their anemic offense and bolster their crazy defense.
So yeah, the Pacers aren't the only team to have made improvements this offseason. Apart from Memphis, they are also the only title contending team without a true superstar closer, though Paul George appears to be heading in that direction. They won't be a favorite among the bookies, but they'll be right in the mix come playoff time, and for a small market team incapable of attracting big name free agents, that's pretty much all you can for hope for.
Offseason transaction summary
PF David West (17.1 points, 7.7 rebounds last season) — 3-year extension worth $36m
G/F Paul George (17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists last season) – 5-year max extension between $80m-100m
PF Luis Scola (12.8ppg, 6.6rpg last season) –traded from Phoenix
F Chris Copeland (8.7ppg, 42.1% 3P last season) — restricted free agent from New York
PG CJ Watson (6.8ppg, 2apg last season) — free agent from Brooklyn
PG Donald Sloan (3.5ppg, 1.7apg last season) — free agent from New Orleans
SF Solomon Hill (rookie)
*G/F Rasual Butler (D-League last season) has made the team due to Danny Granger's calf injury, but it is possible he could be waived if and when Granger recovers
PF Tyler Hansbrough (7ppg, 4.6rpg) — to Toronto
G/F Gerald Green (7ppg, 36.6% FG) — to Phoenix
PG DJ Augustin (4.7ppg, 2.2apg, 35% FG last season) — to Toronto
PF/C Miles Plumlee (0.9ppg, 23.8% FG) — to Phoenix
PF/C Jeff Ayers (formerly Pendergraph) (3.9ppg, 2.8rpg) — to San Antonio
SF Sam Young (2.8ppg, 39.2% FG last season) — free agent (waived by San Antonio)
PG Ben Hansbrough (2ppg, 33% FG last season) — Spanish league
Replaced associate head coach Brian Shaw (new Denver Nuggets head coach) with former NBA head coach Nate McMillan
Replaced assistant coach Jim Boylen (to San Antonio) with former Nets assistant coach Popeye Jones
On paper, the Pacers appear to have done really well this offseason. David West is the heart and soul of the team, a player whose steady offensive game on the court is only matched by his positive influence in the locker room off the court. Re-signing him was the team's No. 1 priority and they got it done without breaking the bank, though some might argue that at 33 years old, a 3-year extension might have been too long. But West's leadership is far too valuable for this team and most believe his old-school game will transition well as he ages.
The max extension to Paul George is a no-brainer. He has earned that after winning Most Improved Player last season, getting on the All-NBA Third Team and leading the Pacers in the playoffs with a string of excellent performances. His offensive game still needs improvement, but he has plenty of potential to be a deadly scorer and is already one of the best wing defenders in the league.
As for the new additions — so far so good. They said the same things last year when they brought in DJ Augustin, Gerald Green and Ian Mahinmi, and to a lesser extent Sam Young. Those guys were supposed represent a strong bench unit, and we all saw what happened then. The only guy still left is Mahinmi, who is serviceable as a backup center and valuable because of his rare size. Now the Pacers have brought in CJ Watson, Chris Copeland and Luis Scola to replace Augustin, Green and Tyler Hansbrough, and objectively speaking they are all upgrades.
Augustin struggled defensively because of his size and didn't find his shot until late in the season. Watson, on the other hand, is a couple of inches taller at 6'2" and is a solid defender who once played in Tom Thibadeau's suffocating system in Chicago. And from what I've seen from him in the preseason, Watson is an upgrade over Augustin offensively as well. Green is a flashy leaper with streaky outside shooting, poor defense and basement-low basketball IQ. Chris Copeland doesn't have the athleticism and is a questionable defender, plus he is also streaky with his outside shot, as we've seen this preseason — but he does have better basketball IQ. If he can reproduce the type of shots he did against the Pacers last playoffs while with the Knicks then Copeland should also be a sizable update. Luis Scola vs Tyler Hansbrough, on the other hand, is an open and shut case. Scola is one of the most skilled offensive big man in the NBA, while Hansbrough is a raging bull who rarely passes and takes ugly-looking shots. The Pacers will miss Tyler's endless energy and excellent fashion choices, but apart from that the Pacers love absolutely everything about this upgrade.
The selection of rookie Solomon Hill with the 23rd pick of the first round in the 2013 NBA Draft caused much ridicule and derision at the time. There were supposedly better options at that pick for the Pacers, but instead they went with a 4-year collegiate widely expected to go in the second round, someone with not a lot of upside and plays the same position as Paul George and Danny Granger. But let's be honest. It was a weak draft and the Pacers weren't going to get a stud at No. 23. So instead they went with a solid, experience player who makes few mistakes and might be able to contribute right away. On this loaded roster gunning for a title, however, it's unlikely Hill will get any meaningful playing time this season. But that's OK. The Pacers will give him time to develop by practising with this bunch and when Granger is gone after this season he could be transformed into a solid backup for Paul George. That's what I guess the plan is, anyway.
The signings of Donald Sloan and Rasual Butler are insurance policies in case of injuries. Butler was supposed to be waived before the start of the season to trim the roster down to 13 players as expected, but since Granger is not yet 100% and will miss at least the first 2 games it appears the Pacers will have 14 players on their roster for the foreseeable future.
On the coaching side, the departure of Brian Shaw to Denver is a huge loss. The players speak fondly of Shaw and the young guys credit him with their development. The guy replacing him, Nate McMillan, is no slouch, having prevously been the head coach of the Seattle Supersonics and Portland Trailblazers for nearly 12 combined seasons. The hiring of former rebounding ace Popeye Jones to replace long-time assistant Jim Boylen is also interesting. Jones doesn't have Boylen's coaching experience but he does have ample experience as a player, having played 12 NBA seasons on six different teams. Even if the net result is a negative it's not a big negative.
Overall, I'd have to give the Pacers' offeseason moves a solid A- based on their re-signing of West, extension of George and the new additions of Scola and Watson. The verdict on the Copeland signing remains unclear, as does the selection of rookie Solomon Hill, and the loss of Brian Shaw still stings. But given the circumstances, this was a great offseason.
Roster comparison 2012/2013 vs 2013/2014
|2012-2013 Roster||2013-2014 Roster|
|PG George Hill||PG George Hill|
|SG Lance Stephenson||SG Paul George|
|SF Paul George||SF Danny Granger**|
|PF David West||PF David West|
|C Roy Hibbert||C Roy Hibbert|
|F Danny Granger*||G/F Lance Stephenson|
|PF Tyler Hansbrough||F/C Luis Scola|
|PG DJ Augustin||PG CJ Watson|
|G/F Gerald Green||F Chris Copeland|
|F/C Ian Mahinmi||C Ian Mahinmi|
|SG Orlando Johnson||SG Orlando Johnson|
|SF Sam Young||SF Solomon Hill|
|PG Ben Hansbrough||PG Donald Sloan|
|F/C Jeff Ayers||G/F Rasual Butler|
|F/C Miles Plumlee||TBA|
* Only played 5 games all season
** It has been strongly suggested that Danny Granger will start if (and that is a big IF) he is fully healthy, with Paul George moved to SG (the other wing position) and Lance Stephenson shifted to the bench to run the second unit. If not, assume that the starting lineup will be the same as last season, with George starting at SF and Stephenson starting at SG, and with Granger being the first or second primary offensive option in the second unit.
*Sorry Rasual Butler, you missed the cut!
This chart is based on the likley positions that the players will play in the upcoming season. As the depth chart indicates, with multiple players capable of playing multiple positions, the Pacers will have at least 3 players capable of playing each of the 5 positions on the floor. Strictly speaking, George Hill can also play SG and Ian Mahinmi can also play PF, though you might not see it much, if at all, this season.
The last couple of games of the preseason were supposed to provide an indication of how coach Frank Vogel intended to split minutes between his players, but the loss of Danny Granger to a calf injury (he won't be ready for the season opener and his return and eventual return to form remains uncertain) and two blowout wins have kept the allocation of playing time a mystery.
The way I see it, George Hill and CJ Watson will split the minutes at point guard, around a roughly 28-20 split, with Donald Sloan as a insurance policy for injuries and blowouts. Paul George, regardless of position, will play the most of any Pacer this year, around 36-38 minutes a game (at least), because he's getting THAT good. David West played 33 minutes a game last season, but with his age creeping up and the addition of Lui Scola, expect his playing time to drop to around 30. Roy Hibbert, depending on whether he can stay out of foul trouble, will hopefully average around 28-32 minutes per game.
That leaves about 58-60 minutes to split equally between Danny Granger and Lance Stephenson, with perhaps a little to spare for Orlando Johnson and/or Solomon Hill, two guys I think won't see much court time unless there are blowouts or injuries. Chris Copeland might also get some minutes at the SF position, but it has already been indicated that he will get most of his playing time at PF, which means he might not see much court time at all because of Luis Scola.
Scola should except to average around 20+ minutes a game, taking up almost all of David West's spare minutes at PF and also playing a bit of center against smaller lineups. Ian Mahinmi, depending on the quality of his play and matchups, should expect to play around 12-15 minutes a game, but if he's not getting the job done expect Vogel to rely more on Hibbert and Scola at the center spots. The guys facing the most uncertainty in terms of playing time should be Copeland and Mahinmi, meaning they could play significant minutes one night and close to nothing the next.
The Danny Granger situation
The offseason re-signings of David West and Paul George, along with the deals the Pacers made with George Hill (5 years, $40m) and Roy Hibbert (4 years, $58m) last offseason (in addition with a likely extension to Lance Stephenson next year) means this is likely Danny Granger's last year as a Pacer no matter what happens this year. The Pacers have repeatedly said they will avoid the luxury tax and Granger, even with his injury woes, would never accept a minimum contract.
Larry Bird was frank when questioned about the Granger situation: if he's not struggling or not fitting in well they will try to unload him before the trade deadline in February to lock up some cheap assets, cap space, and/or possibly draft picks; if he's playing well and making a significant contribution they will roll the dice with him in the playoffs, hoping he can help deliver Indiana its first NBA title, and then worry about his future when the time comes. Actually, simply letting Granger's contract expire will clear up about $14m in cap space, which is exactly what the Pacers need given the extension they just gave to Paul George and the one they will give Lance Stephenson next offseason.
Granger for Rajon Rondo?
A potential trade that has been brought up numerous times has been Danny Granger for the Celtics' PG Rajon Rondo, who is recovering from a torn ACL but would give the Pacers a dominant floor general who can control an entire game with his passing alone. Adding the tough, crafty Rondo to a starting lineup with Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert would be absolutely spectacular and would instantly elevate the Pacers into the top echelon of title contenders.
The Celtics are claiming that Rondo remains a part of their future, but everyone knows that Danny Ainge is blowing things up, leading to many analysts predicting that Rondo will be gone from Boston before the trade deadline. The Pacers have made it clear they are listening to offers for Granger. The salaries roughly match (Granger $14m, Rondo $12-13m) and Granger's is valuable because it is expiring at the end of the season. But most people believe Ainge will ask for a lot more than just Granger and a first round draft pick in the upcoming draft, the most promising in a decade with the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum set to enter the league.
Besides, luxury tax ramifications essentially mean this deal is already dead in the water. With Paul George signed to a max extension, even if you take Granger off the Pacers' books completely it would still put them at around $65m in 2014/2015, which would still be perilously close to the luxury tax threshold (this year it's $71.7m). This means unless they waive Luis Scola and his $4.9m non-guaranteed contract next year, a Granger-Rondo trade could very well put them over the top. And this doesn't even take into account the extension they are almost certain to give to Lance Stephenson.
In any case, even if Rondo somehow comes to Indiana, what does that mean for the incumbent starter George Hill, who still has 4 years left on his contract with the Pacers? Will they move him to clear cap space or will they shift him to the type of bench role he thrived in in San Antonio? They could also move him to shooting guard as he is comfortable without the ball, though he would be undersized at that position at 6'3".
It's an intriguing fantasy trade situation, but it's nearly impossible to imagine such a deal being pulled off right now with so many variables left hanging. Both Granger's and Rondo's health are unknowns at the moment, and it's questionable whether the Pacers would even pull the trigger on such a trade considering how much they love Hill (remember, they gave up Kawhi "Future Superstar" Leonard for him) and the fact that Rondo's enigmatic personality could unsettle the Pacers' harmonious locker room. Still, if the Pacers underachieve out of the gate and don't appear to be able to edge Miami or Chicago in a 7-game series, I would definitely take the gamble on Rondo (if a trade is possible) because he instantly makes the Pacers a top contender.
Granger for Eric Gordon?
Another potential trade discussed around water coolers is Granger for New Orleans Pelicans shooting guard Eric Gordon. The main reason people are bringing this up is because Granger is a native of New Orleans and Gordon is a native of Indiana, and Indiana would really love an athletic offensive threat like Gordon at SG that would allow Paul George to remain in his preferred role of SF. It also sounds like a fair gamble because both guys are also injury prone (Gordon played just 42 games last season and averaged 17 points) and their $14m salaries are a perfect match.
But with Gordon's health being a major concern at just 24 years old and his character questioned after he rejected New Orlean's extension offer in a ploy to play for the Phoenix Suns, I have more doubts about this trade than the Rondo one. And the same luxury tax ramifications that apply to Rondo apply for Gordon as well, so you might as well forget about it.
vs Chicago L 82-76 (0-1)
vs Houston (Manila) L 116-96 (0-2)
@ Houston (Taipei) L 107-98 (0-3)
vs Dallas L 92-85 (0-4)
@ Chicago L 103-98 (0-5)
@ Cleveland W 102-79 (1-5)
@ Atlanta W 107-89 (2-5)
@ Dallas W 98-77 (3-5)
The Pacers have 2 games in October, at home against the Magic in the first game of the new NBA season, followed by a road game against the New Orleans Pelicans a day later. It would be good to start off on a strong note with 2 big wins against non-playoff teams, but the start of the regular season is a weird time where teams may be out of synch.
November is a relatively even month for the Pacers with 8 home games and 6 road games. There are some tough matchups with 2 games against the Bulls and games against Brooklyn, Memphis and New York, but also some easy ones against Toronto, Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia and Charlotte. The Pacers need to kill November because December is hell, starting with a 5-game West coast road trip (including San Antonio and Oklahoma City back-to-back), then 2 games apiece against Miami and Brooklyn and another against Houston.
January features another 5-game road trip out West albeit against weaker opponents this time and 8 road games against 6 home games, but it's a relatively lighter part of the schedule and the Pacers need to take advantage of it. February is the home-heavy portion of the schedule with 8 home games against 4 road games, while March is the opposite with a grueling 11 road games against just 7 home games. If the Pacers make it through March looking good then they are in good shape, though they will play two title contenders — Miami and Oklahoma City — before finishing the season the way they started, against Orlando.
Outlook and predictions
The Indiana Pacers finished last season with 49 wins (in 81 games — the Celtics game near the end of the season was canceled because of the Boston bombings) and it should be a goal for the team to crack the 52-win mark this season. Three more wins with an extra played game doesn't sound like much, but with Miami still being Miami, Chicago having Derrick Rose back and a newly bolstered Brooklyn lineup, the Pacers will have their work cut out for them. And don't forget, the Knicks won more games than the Pacers last season and will be itching for payback when the 2 teams meet after the Pacers ousted them in the Conference Seminfals. Eastern Conference team such as Detroit, Washington and Cleveland also got better.
Some analysts have gone as far as predicting that the Pacers will crack 60-wins this season and claim the top seed, but I think that is being way too optimistic. If we take injuries out of the equation for the moment, I would still place Chicago and Miami (in that order) ahead of Indiana in the standings. Provided Derrick Rose's knee holds up, the Bulls should be the best regular season team in the entire NBA this year, with Miami in second place in the East depending on Wade's health and how bored LeBron gets. That puts the Pacers in a race for the 3rd seed alongside Brooklyn and New York. The Nets, which tied the Pacers with 49 wins last season (but lost the tiebreaker) are an unknown entity at the moment because of Deron William's health and question marks over how much is left in the tank for KG and Pierce, not to mention the difficulties of incorporating 2 new key players (3 if you include Jason Terry) and a brand new rookie head coach in Jason Kidd. I also have doubts New York can duplicate their 54-win performance from last season.
So I see the Pacers finishing anywhere between 51-55 wins and a potential 3rd or 4th seed. This all of course depends on health. An injury to George or Hibbert in particular would pretty much derail the entire team's chances, though if Granger (eventually) fits into the lineup like a glove the sky's the limit for this team. Injuries to players in Miami (Wade), Chicago (Rose, Noah) and Brooklyn (take your pick) might also play a big factor in how each team finishes on the ladder.
That said, I wouldn't be too concerned even if the Pacers did finish (what would appear to be a disappointing) 4th or 5th in the East because this is a team built for the playoffs. Besides, if we assume that all teams want to avoid Miami for as long as possible and that the Bulls will clinch the first seed, then a first round matchup against the Knicks as either the 4th of 5th seed is not all that bad. This is because the Pacers have already proven that they can beat the Knicks even without home court advantage, and it means as the winner of that matchup they'd play the 1st seed in the next round, thereby avoiding a potential Miami confrontation until the Conference Finals.
But the serious question is: can the Pacers beat Chicago or Miami in a 7-game series with this current roster? I think they can, but only with home court advantage (which they likely won't have). Without it, they will need some luck (calls, injuries, Chris Copeland catching fire, etc) and a breakout series performance from a guy or two.
If the Pacers somehow make the Finals, then what? I'd like to think anything can happen, though they'll be considered underdogs against the likes of San Antonio and Oklahoma City, especially without home court advantage. I do, however, like the Pacers' odds if they face the Clippers, Rockets, Grizzlies or even Warriors in the Finals.
I expect big things from Paul George this year, but for the sake of the team, not TOO big. The reason is because if George gets on another All-NBA team (he was on the 3rd team last season), he'll become eligible for the Derrick Rose rule, meaning his max extension will take up 30% of the team's salary instead of the standard 25%. That would seriously hamper the Pacers' financial flexibility moving forward. As Zach Lowe from Grantland says, it's probable that George won't make an All-NBA team this year with the likes of LeBron, Durant, Dirk, Love, Carmelo, Griffin, Duncan and Howard taking up 8 of the 9 slots already.
So what is a realistic prediction for PG24? From what I've seen of him in the preseason, he's ready to take the next step. He will be more confident this year with the ball in his hands and will want the ball more in clutch situations. His ability to take his man on-on-man, especially with a deadly pull-up jumper, will open up more opportunities to take the ball into the lane, where he has also proven that he can convert with contact. My estimation is that George will average around 20 points a game, grab 6-8 rebounds and dish out 4-6 assists while shooting at least 45% from the field (he shot 41.9% last season) and 85% from the line (he shot 80% last season). That and solidifying his reputation as one of the best wing defenders in the league.
Roy Hibbert will start off the 2013/2014 season much better than the 2012/2013 season. Whether it was an undisclosed wrist injury from MMA training or pressure from his new contract or a combination of both, Hibbert was abysmal in the first couple of months of last season before slowly rounding into form and becoming a beast in the playoffs. He is supposed to have buffed up a lot this offseason, as evidenced by the infamous photo with Tim Duncan, but I don't expect Roy to have a big year on offense. He averaged 11.9 points in the regular season and 17 points in the playoffs in 2012/2013, and my guess is that his scoring average this season will be closer to the former than the latter, with perhaps an increase of a point or two as his shooting percentage creeps closer to 50%. But I do expect Hibbert and his "verticality" to make him a prime candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. I'm looking for him to average 2.5-3 blocks a game and close to 10 boards. The rest will be up to the judges.
I don't expect George Hill's numbers to change much, though David West should experience a natural decline with his minutes and touches dwindling in favor of George, Granger and Scola. As for Lance Stephenson, as the value of his extension will be determined by his play this year, expect him to take another step forward with his progress. I don't know if he will necessarily score a lot of points, but he should be a valuable role player who fills up the stat sheet in other categories such as rebounds and assists. I wouldn't be surprised if he grabbed a triple-double this year.
Off the bench, I expect Luis Scola to lead the way offensively and be the only double-digit scorer in the second unit (unless Granger is there with him or Lance blows up offensively). CJ Watson has really impressed me so far and he should be a solid backup PG who can score and defend without putting up flashy numbers. Unfortunately, Chris Copeland looks like he could be a disappointment, but as long as he hits the big shots when they count he is still a worthy investment. Ian Mahinmi will be serviceable but I also don't expect him to suddenly become anything more than what he's shown the last couple of seasons.
Rookie Solomon Hill might get some minutes if there are injuries, but this will likely be a watch and learn year for him. Guys like Orlando Johnson, Donald Sloan and Rasual Butler will see mainly garbage time only, but personally I would like to see more minutes for Johnson.
Last, but not least, Danny Granger, whose return from knee surgery has been anything but a smooth ride. I would really love to see him get back to even just 60% of his old self, but right now the most important thing for him is to get healthy and play some minutes to get his shooting legs back. To be honest I remain a little pessimistic about Granger. The odds of a player who had been in decline for a couple of years (even before the injury) making a huge comeback are extremely low. The best case scenario, by my standards, is that he plays 70 games, shoots well (eventually) to provide some much-needed offense on either unit, and average a relatively efficient 10-12 points a game. Even if he just settles into a James Posey-type of role (three pointers, veteran leadership and defense), that's fine too. The worst case scenario is that he'll have a setback and play only a handful of games in another wasted season, or never find his groove in the offense and ends up getting a bunch of morale-killing DNP-coach's decision on his game log.
The ramifications of the Paul George max extension are complex and interesting, and they are explained well in this article. In short, all that financial flexibility the Pacers appeared to have is now pretty much gone after the George extension and the deals to George Hill, Roy Hibbert and David West. These four guys are the team's core for the next 3 years, so the expenditure is understandable, especially if you consider that the Pacers need to overpay players to stay in Indiana because of its small market status. Larry Bird has repeatedly stated that Lance Stephenson will be "taken care of", meaning Born Ready will likely get a lucrative extension of his own before he becomes a restricted free agent at the end of this season. Of course, Lance is not a max player, but his versatility and potential make him a valuable commodity worthy of a mid-level contract.
What all this means is that when Stephenson is re-signed and George's extension kicks in at the start of the 2014/2015 season, the Pacers won't have a lot of room to move. I don't think the Pacers can or will move Granger. The possibility that Granger can put the Pacers over the top in the East makes him too valuable to just throw away for spare parts, which suggests to me that the Pacers will roll the dice with him and let him play out the season. In other words, they will let Granger go for nothing at the end of the season no matter what happens and collect the benefits from the $14m in cap space he takes with him. Even then, the Pacers will be effectively capped out until the 2015/2016, with only the ability to tweak the roster around the edges before that time comes.
But that is by no means a horrible predicament to be in. They already proved last season they don't need Granger to contend with a starting lineup of Hill, Stephenson, George, West and Hibbert, an impressive core they will have locked in until the end of 2014/2015, and possibly a year longer if West and Hibbert pick up their player options. While West will slowly decline with age, the other four guys should improve during this period, with the potential of George becoming a legitimate 2-way superstar. So Pacers fans can relax for now knowing that their team will stay in tact and challenge for the NBA title over the next 2 to 3 years, with their centerpiece Paul George locked in until the end of 2018/2019. Given the salary cap and luxury tax implications, however, it appears that this will be a team that can only improve internally through the development of its existing players, and that any personnel movements will be around the edges to fill in minor holes and gaps in the roster.