The Herald Bulletin
---- — What a wonderful trip it was this past season for all fans of the Indiana Pacers.
There were so many things about which to cheer and to embrace the "Blue Collar, Gold Swagger" theme the team proclaimed all season. This is a young team that can be very good for another decade.
Obviously the Pacers want to get better. But they are at a crossroads in exactly how to go about that goal. There are two paths before them, one likely leading to an immediate goal and the other to a long-term level of excellence.
The long range plan would be to just generally improve. That's the path most often discussed these past few days. The bench needs another scorer. That could be Lance Stephenson if Danny Granger becomes a part of the starting lineup next year after missing virtually all of this season.
The Pacers are in dire need of a pure shooter though, whether as part of the starting package or as a relief sniper.
The second option involves more specific. This plan would revolve around improving with the express goal of beating Miami. The Heat would appear to be on the verge of a second straight NBA title and though the team is indeed an old one, it is still likely to be a threat for another season or two at that upper level.
This would not be a popular option. One of the big liability the team has now against Miami is at point guard. Both George Hill and DJ Augustin are too small and weak to play against the pressure the Heat used to force turnovers and sink the Pacers' chances Monday night. Neither was able to split the double teams or effectively strong-arm his way out of trouble. Neither could see to pass over it either.
The single stat that most directly led to the team's downfall in the Eastern Conference final was turnovers. In almost every situation, team turnovers can be put on the point guards and Indiana is no exception. When Miami was bringing pressure and traps, the answer was to get into an offense quicker. Indiana's point guard tandem failed to do that.
I say this is an unpopular fix because Hill is a hometown product, a good guy, a potent scorer and a hard worker. He fits into a plan to make the team generally better. It isn't clear exactly how Augustin fits into either plan.
Indiana needs to sign David West no matter which path they choose. Beyond that, most moves can't logically be made until that path is chosen.
The status of Granger will be the most highly publicized decision the Pacers will make in the off-season. But there are others just as critical.
Indiana will be as much fun to watch between now and next season as they were during this past season. I hope the right choice is made and the next step in this evolution can take place.
Sports Editor Rick Teverbaugh's columns appear twice weekly.