As the end of the NBA regular season draws near, fans of the forgotten Lottery squads all ask themselves one question:
Should we start tanking games now to get a better draft pick?
Usually I’m 100% against that idea. Even if scoring the No. 1 pick means you’ll get LeBron or Shaq or Duncan, I just don’t want my team/coach out there trying to lose. If you get lucky and the balls bounce your way for a franchise-changing superstar, fine; it was meant to happen. But if you tank and then don’t get the top pick anyway, you might have messed around and created a losing culture in your locker room that can take years to eradicate. Given the events of the last couple of weeks, though, I’m starting to think maybe the Indiana Pacers should have packed it in sooner than later and improved their chances in the 2010 Lottery.
The Pacers need a point guard, and the best one available this summer was projected No. 1 pick John Wall, now headed to Washington (barring a surprise). Going into next season, T.J. Ford is Indiana’s only PG under contract — after he cashes in on his $8.5 million player-option — while Earl Watson and Travis Diener are free agents. And earlier this week, A.J. Price, who averaged 7.3 points per game in a promising rookie season, fractured his left kneecap during a charity basketball game and will be out 4-6 months. Since Price was a second-round pick and his contract isn’t guaranteed, the Pacers might just waive him.
Considered a team on the rise after finishing just a few games out of the ’09 playoffs, the Pacers took a step back this season, and point guard was a definite trouble spot. Indy’s 14.2 turnovers per game was 8th-highest in the League, and they were middle-of-the-pack in assists and 28th in field goal percentage. In other words, they weren’t getting the ball to their best scorers in their best positions to score, and in Jim O’Brien‘s offense-first system, that’s not going to work. Ford has zero leeway with O’Brien and the Indy fans, and Watson wasn’t much more than a stopgap.
Currently holding the No. 10 pick in the June draft, the Pacers aren’t in bad shape, but they’re not in a spot where they’d probably take a point guard. After Wall, this year’s rookie class is actually thin on PG’s, with no other prospects considered Top-10 caliber.
Granted, I’ve never bought into that line of thinking. If you need a PG and the 2nd-best PG in the class is projected to go in the 20’s, so what? Draft him. The Oklahoma City Thunder took a chance when they picked Russell Westbrook earlier than anyone thought he would go, and look how that turned out. So if I’m running the Pacers and PG is my biggest need, I’d seriously consider taking Eric Bledsoe or Avery Bradley at the 10th spot. But NBA teams usually don’t think that way, so while Indiana may use their second-round pick (40th) on a PG project, their search for a potential starter most likely goes through free agency or a trade.
But this is also a weak year for point guards on the free-agent market. Ray Felton is the best PG available, followed by a bunch of borderline starters: Kyle Lowry, Luke Ridnour, Randy Foye, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, J.J. Barea and Will Bynum. Out of that group you could get a decent starter and a solid backup without breaking the bank, but other than maybe Felton there’s no guaranteed get-us-over-the-playoff-hump guy out there.
The Pacers do have some trade assets, however. Ford’s contract is expiring in 2011, as are Mike Dunleavy Jr.‘s and Troy Murphy‘s deals at more than $10 million apiece. So if the rumors are true that San Antonio is fielding offers for Tony Parker or Washington is shopping Gilbert Arenas, I’d think the Pacers would at least pick up the phone.
What do you think the Pacers should do this summer?