Despite Monday night’s disheartening loss to the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers have to feel good about themselves as the trade deadline approaches.
The 92-72 loss to their budding rivals was yet another one in which they played a poor stretch of basketball that resulted in a blowout loss. At halftime, the Pacers held a one-point road lead before the Bulls went on a 33-13 run in the third quarter. Seven of their 13 losses have come by double-digits, including six to teams that rank first through sixth in the Eastern Conference.
For the first time in several seasons, the Pacers absolutely won’t be selling at the deadline.
They will likely finish anywhere from third to sixth in the Eastern Conference and unlike their contemporaries in that race, Indiana has available cap space to absorb more salary than they send out over the next week.
The roster isn’t without needs, but the front office won’t sacrifice the long-term merely to improve their chances for the 2012 Playoffs. It would be very easy for them to turn overly aggressive in pursuit of a trade given the team’s fast maturation. But the Pacers haven’t panicked or opted for the quick fix over the course of their rebuilding process and that isn’t going to change with success finally being realized.
After last year’s first-round playoff loss to the Bulls, the Pacers added David West and George Hill and were supposed to be better, but no one expected them to flirt with one of the NBA’s best regular season records this quickly. Unfortunately for the Pacers, the East is top-heavy this season. They trail Chicago by seven games for the best record, but Orlando, Philadelphia, Indiana, Atlanta, Boston and New York are only separated by six games.
So, do the Pacers add salary and talent?
The answer isn’t a simple one because there is little chance they would be able to beat the Bulls or Heat in a seven-game series with or without whatever addition they could make at this point.
They could, however, take on the contract of a player that would help them next season and beyond rather than preserve all of their salary cap flexibility for the coming summers. That would be a proactive move given the uncertainty that surrounds free agency these days. With the amnestied contract of James Posey, Indiana has about $43 million tied up in their current roster. That number will dip to around $35 million, including a variety of player, team and qualifying offer options, for the 12-13 season.
There are two certainties – they will not add a player who could compromise team chemistry or one that would stunt the growth of their young core. Instead, an addition would likely eat up the minutes currently assigned to Dahntay Jones, A.J. Price, Lou Amundson and Lance Stephenson.
As has been the case for quite some time, they could use a talent scorer of the bench, especially one with the ability to create his own offense. Hill has done that for the Pacers when healthy, but another explosive player would help.
Things are also touch-and-go with Jeff Foster’s health, who provides a valuable presence on the court in addition to his veteran guidance. The Pacers haven’t missed his offensive rebounding as much as anticipated when his back forces him to sit, but they haven’t been able to keep opposing teams off the glass on the other end. The Bulls abused them with 18 offensive rebounds, which accounted for 40% of their missed shots.
Indiana’s needs are common across the NBA, which complicates filling the holes. There are countless contending teams specifically in search of a shooting guard and a rebounding big man.
It’s not to say that the Pacers won’t work the phones in search of moves that would make them better over the final 30 games of the season, but they are more likely to play the role of facilitator this month.
They have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for teams to call them about becoming the often necessary third team in a deal. In that position, they can be highly selective about what they get involved in and who and what they take on in terms of players and contracts.
They aren’t in the market to build a team with the sole goal of making a deep playoff run this spring and or even the next, the Pacers want sustainability and should only make moves with that objective in mind.