It’s no secret that following Paul George’s gruesome injury in early August while scrimmaging with Team USA will put the Indiana Pacers in a tough spot for the 2014-15 season. George’s tangibles, intangibles, athleticism, you name it, will all be missed. Not only that, but of the five positions on the floor, small forward depth was arguably the thinnest for the Pacers. Roy Hibbert had Ian Mahinmi (and Andrew Bynum, briefly) behind him, George Hill had C.J. Watson backing him up, David West leaned on Luis Scola, Lance Stephenson was subbed out for volume-shooter Evan Turner by the end of the year. And when Paul George went to the bench, the Pacers responded with…yeah. It was either a debilitated and eventually-traded Danny Granger, raw rookie Solomon Hill, veteran journeyman Rasual Butler, or rarely-used Chris Copeland.
Now, without Paul George for the next year or so, one of those guys – or possibly offseason acquisitions C.J. Miles and Damjan Rudez – will be asked to step up and take big minutes. Considering Miles is more of a natural two-guard and was initially signed to share the shooting guard duties with new signee Rodney Stuckey and Rudez likely has a steep learning curve adjusting from Europe, you’d have to think that, as of right now, it’s down to Copeland and Hill. Copeland can be quite a sharpshooter but is weaker on defense, whereas Hill has the physical tools to be a strong defensive wing presence but looked out of his element offensively in the 28 games he played last year.
Not exactly inspiring, right?
Pacers front office prez Larry Bird has never been one for a traditional rebuild, as evidenced the fact that between the years between the brawl and post-Reggie Miller (2004-2005) and the team’s return to the playoffs (2011), Indy has never picked higher than 10th and lower than 17th. Fortunately, included in those picks happened to the likes of George, Hibbert, and Granger. So, don’t expect a traditional rebuild and do expect for Bird and coach Frank Vogel to try and find the best guy to plug into the lineup. So, if Bird were to look outside the roster already in place, here are some names that might be some good options.
Shawn Marion: Perhaps the best and most surprising unrestricted free agent left on the market, Marion is a four-time All-Star, the most recent being in 2007, and at age 36 still plays a nice combination of offense and defense. He’s not the 22 a game scorer he once was for Phoenix, but he’s a steady veteran that would bring his playoff experience and 2011 ring with him from Dallas. Marion is clearly at the stage of his career where he values titles more than fat paychecks. However, if he’s looking for a playoff-caliber team, a big role, more than a minimum salary, and a place to be in the starting five, Indy is it. A natural small forward, The Matrix may not be The One, but at this point, he’s likely The Best One. And bonus points for him returning near his old stomping grounds after playing two years of college ball in Vincennes!
MarShon Brooks: He’s second on the list because multiple media outlets have linked the team’s interest to the three-year pro. Brooks had a nice start to his career, averaging nearly 13 points a game as a Net and ending his inaugural year on the All-Rookie Second Team, alongside a talented rookie field that year comprised of Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Chandler Parsons, Kenneth Faried, and Klay Thompson and more. But in the two seasons since then? Four teams (only one of them playoff-bound) and an average of around five points per game. Plus, Brooks is a guy who has a reputation of poor attitude and defensive apathy that has followed him wherever he’s gone. The reason he might be a fit in Indy this year is that the Pacers need as much offense as they can get now and Brooks has had flashes of that.
Michael Beasley: I have him on the list because browsing various message boards, I’ve seen his name pop up. If you ask me? No…just no. Attitude problems, health issues, drug issues, and flat-out inefficient play? Is that what you want to deal with during what will likely be an emotional season anyway?
Other players out there:
Chris Douglas-Roberts: A guy who has played in various non-NBA league, CDR managed to play nearly 18 minutes a game for a playoff team in Charlotte last year. Humble, hustler, and has a decent shot here and there.
Rip Hamilton: Yes, that Rip Hamilton, face mask and all. Hamilton spent last season out of the league and most recently played for Chicago. Rip has been quoted as saying he wants another shot at the league, but at age 36, it’s an uphill climb. But a steady veteran who has averaged under 10 points a game in only one season might be worth a minimum salary or a camp invite at least.
Sam Young: Young made a bit of a name for himself, playing some strong spurty defense against LeBron James in the 2013 playoffs. Young will never light up the scoreboard but if nothing else, he knows the Pacers’ system and would provide an iota of stability which the Pacers have very little of right now.
And in the “they’re still in the league?” category, Francisco Garcia is out there, as are John Salmons and Hedo Turkoglu, both of whom have pinballed around the league the last couple years.
Personally, I’d like to see the team sign Marion or give the starting nod to Copeland (or Rudez, who still has everything to prove in the NBA). Without Paul George, Vogel and his staff need to squeeze every ounce of offense possible and be forced to sacrifice some defense for the sake of some shooting.
Available players are either up there in age and/or have some baggage and/or have glaring flaws in their games. Either way, whoever Bird and the front office deem as the best option, nobody will walk through the door and be able to replicate Paul George’s 21 points, six-plus rebounds and nearly two steals a game. That’s why we’re a week into August and they’re still without a job. Keep in mind, that any new signing will force either a player to be cut (Donald Sloan and undrafted Shayne Whittington both have unguaranteed contracts) or traded.
There is no perfect answer or perfect player, and basketball isn’t a perfect game. The 9:33 mark in the 4th quarter of Team USA’s August 1 scrimmage proved that.