Much like the town they call home, the Indiana Pacers are content to thrive in relative anonymity. While they haven't made a big splash in free agency or a blockbuster trade, the Pacers have been quietly improving a team that took the Heat to six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
This off season's biggest news for the Pacers thus far has been Larry Bird's leave of absence. In his place is former Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard who stepped up when David Morway resigned prior to Bird's leaving. Former Pacer's general manager Donnie Walsh, the architect of the Reggie Miller era Pacers, was also brought on board in a consulting role.
Pritchard and Walsh have been busy. First, they inked restricted free agent All-Star center Roy Hibbert to a max contract. They also re-upped Indy native and versatile guard, George Hill. Then they went to work reshaping the roster, focusing on building depth and role players around Hibbert, Hill, Danny Granger, and Paul George.
Pacer fans were puzzled when the team took Duke's Mile Plumlee with their first round pick. The idea with Plumlee is to develop another Jeff Foster, a big man who can come off the bench and provide a physical presence while Hibbert is on the bench.
The Pacers then dealt G Darren Collison and reserve Dahntay Jones for backup big man Ian Mahinmi. Mahinmi could give the Pacers a low post offensive threat when Hibbert is out, or he could be future trade bait.
Rumors swirled that the Pacers were interested in Memphis free agent OJ Mayo, but that never came to pass. Instead, the Pacers picked up Gerald Green from New Jersey/Brooklyn. Green is a gifted athlete who can score from anywhere, but has been very inconsistent thus far in his NBA career. The Pacers hope Green can provide scoring off the bench superior to that of Leandro Barbosa.
The biggest acquisition was point guard DJ Augustin from Charlotte. Augustin brings a pass first mentality to the position, something that was lacking with the often erratic Collison. His ability to break down defenses and dish should improve the effectiveness of Hibbert and David West down low as well as open up more perimeter opportunities for Granger, George and Hill.
The lone concern for the Pacers is still defensively off the bench. They showed in the playoffs last year that a healthy Paul George and Danny Granger can guard the league's best, while Roy Hibbert is an effective shot blocker. If any of those players are in foul trouble, however, the team lacks a defensive presence to fill their shoes.
These moves combined with losses among other Eastern Conference contenders, put the Pacers in an enviable position. Chicago will be without Derrick Rose for the first half of the season and showed they have major scoring concerns without him. Kirk Heinrich won't change that.
The Celtics are aging and lost Ray Allen to the Heat this off season. They had a good draft with Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, but neither will be ready to contribute majorly in 2012-13.
The Nets are spending under their billionaire Russian owner, but still don't have the pieces that would put them past the Pacers.
As things stand now, the Pacers look to be the early favorites to take the Central division and be on a collision course in the conference finals against defending champion Miami.