Over the next month, CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball will take a team-by-team look at 2013 NBA offseason. We continue with the Eastern Conference hopefuls, the Indiana Pacers. Check out the rest of the offseason reports here.
How they finished 2013
I don't think a lot of people took the Indiana Pacers seriously after their 2012 playoff battle with the Miami Heat. In a series in which Chris Bosh went down in the first game (abdominal injury), the Pacers managed to battle their Eastern Conference foes to six games before LeBron James and Co., put them away. It was a step in the right direction for a Pacers team building their identity on length, toughness and bully ball.
Coming into the 2012-13 season, the Pacers weren't necessarily overlooked, but with Danny Granger likely to miss months because of a knee injury, there were plenty of questions about how the Pacers were going to score. And through the first couple of months of the season, they didn't score much. However, that didn't matter because the league's best defense was stingy with the points they allowed their opponents to score.
As the Pacers waited for Roy Hibbert's shot-making funk to subside and for Paul George to blossom as the primary perimeter weapon (earning him his first All-Star bid and All-NBA third-team selection), they got by on defense. Once the offense started to come around and the defense stayed at the top of the league, Indiana rounded into a formidable opponent.
For the second straight season, the Pacers had one of the top five-man units in the NBA. The combination of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, George, David West and Hibbert proved to be too much on a nightly basis. They went into the playoffs with aspirations of not only challenging the Heat, but also finding a way to close out the series. They dismissed the Atlanta Hawks in six games in the first round and took care of the New York Knicks in six games in the second round.
In the Eastern Conference Finals -- their first trip since 2004 -- the Pacers battled the Heat about as well as you could that season (not counting the incredible Finals, of course). The Pacers split the first two games in Miami, split the next two in Indiana, and split games 5 and 6 before settling into a Game 7 with the Heat in Miami. And while they were handled fairly easily in that Game 7, the learning experience proved how close they could get to success and showed how much better they have to be next time.
The area in which the Pacers most needed help was on offense, primarily from their bench. Hill, West, George and Hibbert provide plenty of offense from the starting lineup. However, their bench was one of last season's worst reserve groups in terms of scoring. Only the Portland Trail Blazers' bench scored fewer points per game, but the Pacers had the worst shooting bench from the field (39.3 percent) and they were 26th in 3-point shooting (32.9 percent) off the bench.
The Pacers surprised just about everybody with their selection of Solomon Hill out of Arizona. The small forward prospect was lightly regarded during his senior season. He was mostly projected as a fringe second-round pick, despite having a pretty decent overall game. He did quite a few things well, but didn't really stand out at anything. But the Pacers saw plenty in him from his pre-draft stuff to take him with the 23rd pick, ahead of Reggie Bullock, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Andre Roberson.
Free agency and trades
The big key to the Pacers having a successful offseason was keeping the culture of their team thriving by re-signing West. Seemingly moments after the Pacers were eliminated and denied their trip to the Finals, both sides were very up front about keeping the working relationship going. They re-signed the 33-year-old power forward for $36 million over three years, banking that his ability to pound players in the post will hold up.
Outside of re-signing the West, the Pacers got busy with adding scoring punch to their anemic bench. They replaced Augustin, an inconsistent shooter, with C.J. Watson, who was coming off of a spectacular couple of years backing up Derrick Rose and then Deron Williams. They also grabbed Donald Sloan to be a third point guard.
Indiana also added perimeter shooting in Chris Copeland. He got a two-year, $6.1 million deal in restricted free agency that the Knicks couldn't or wouldn't match. With that, the Pacers seemed to upgrade the scoring off their bench immensely, giving them a successful offseason. However, they still had one more big move to make.
The Pacers traded Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green, and a future first round selection to the Phoenix Suns for power forward scoring savant Luis Scola. Not only does Scola give the Pacers a ton of scoring potential at the 4 off the bench, he also provides some nice West insurance for the time being.
Overall grade and accomplishments: A
Looking at what the Pacers had going into last season and what we think of them now as a team, appreciating their offseason and the way they've transformed a bench unit in desperate need of a lift is pretty easy to do. They already had a starting lineup that was capable of contending with any lineup in the NBA. With Granger looking to come back from his knee troubles that kept him out of all but five games last season, the Pacers' scoring might not be a problem or ranked as low as 19th like it was last season.
The Pacers can roll out a rotation of George Hill, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, and Roy Hibbert in the starting lineup with C.J. Watson, Lance Stephenson, Chris Copeland, Luis Scola, and Ian Mahinmi. They've suddenly gone from a team looking to their starters for the majority of the work being done throughout a game to a deep rotation with many interchangeable parts and the ability to pace (excuse the word play) out their minutes over the course of the season.
Even if Granger isn't able to come back, whittling that rotation down to nine guys or maybe even replacing Granger with limited minutes from Solomon Hill is not a bad way to go. They've upgraded from Augustin to Watson and Hansbrough to Scola. Scola may have severe defensive problems when he's on the court, but he's joining the best defensive team in the league while bringing is bag of scoring tricks.
Going into last season, a lot of people dismissed the Pacers as one of the top teams in their conference. Going into the 2013-14 season, it's probably time to start taking them seriously as one of the best teams in the NBA.