Pacers Plan Comes Together
Four years ago, it was difficult to envision the Indiana Pacers as the sort of Eastern Conference powerhouse that they were in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, yet today they find themselves near the top of their conference, seeded third behind only the Chicago Bulls and Miami HEAT.
How does a team that seemed so far from being taken seriously make such a huge turnaround? According to Pacers general manager David Morway, it hasn’t been easy and a lot of it has to do with the decision not to trade small forward Danny Granger.
“We’ve had to be very deliberate, disciplined and judicious with our decisions,” Morway told HOOPSWORLD. “We’ve never talked about trading Danny. That’s something that’s only talked about in the media. Larry (Bird) made the commitment to him as the cornerstone of the franchise because of what kind of person he is and what kind of player he is.”
This despite a very slow start to this season by Granger while up-and-coming swingman Paul George played well enough to initiate plenty of Granger-centric trade rumors. Morway insists he and Bird never wavered in their stance on the team’s leading scorer.
“You can’t worry about small, short periods of time where players struggle,” Morway said. “I always say that they’re human beings and they’re going to go through things. I think Danny had a hard time with the way the season started and getting himself into game shape, then getting comfortable with all of our new players. In the past he was so prone to thinking that if he didn’t score, we couldn’t win. It took him a while to get used to the fact that we have so many options offensively, and I think its made things easier for him.”
George, meanwhile, continues to blossom as the team’s starting shooting guard. While he may be a more natural small forward, Morway said they never considered a logjam in minutes between him and Granger. The way he talks, it was always the plan that the two be on the floor at the same time.
“Larry and I and our scouts, when we talked about Paul, we thought he could play either of the wing positions because of his athleticism, his quickness, his length. We didn’t feel like he’d be a duplication of Danny,” he said. “He was a very young player with tremendous upside who was just starting to learn the game, and he had a kind of athleticism that’s really rare and the length to go with it. He’s a gym rat with a tremendous desire to win, has great character, comes from a great family, and we thought that with all those things he could be the kind of guy who could develop into a really good player for us.”
Not only has the George/Granger experiment worked out well, but other draft picks like Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough—both taken in the 10-17 range, just like George and Granger—have worked out well, too, as have many of the team’s trades and free agency signings. Part of it has been luck, but most of the credit just has to be given to a front office that has made a lot of the right decisions in putting this team together.
“We really looked at it as a three-year plan when we got into this. We really thought we could get it turned around in three years, and in five years we thought we’d contend for championships,” Morway said. “Our goal was to build this team in a way where we’d have sustained success, and have a multiple year kind of run where we could be a good basketball team.
“In a small market, that’s really important,” he added. “We’re going to have to be diligent every step of the way because our young players are developing and they’re eventually going to hit free agency. You want to pay them and take care of them, so you’ve got to continue to draft appropriately.”
As the third seed in the East, there’s no denying at this point that the team’s philosophy of rebuilding set into motion four years ago has come to fruition rather nicely, but the Pacers still appear to be a couple steps away from convincing critics that they’re a real contender for a championship.
“We’ve got a lot of challenges in front of us, but we’re comfortable that we’re heading in the right direction,” Morway said. “More than anything else, we’re proud of this group of guys, their commitment to the Pacers on and off the court, in the community, and the way they’ve really committed themselves to this franchise.”
We’ve come a long way from the days of Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Troy Murphy, and it’s finally starting to look like the Pacers are ready to return to perennial glory. All it took was a little bit of savvy rebuilding and this proud franchise was back on its feet. The next step is seeing what the players and coaching staff do with the hard work Morway and Bird have done to make this all happen.