For this edition of The Questionable Blogger, I sent some questions to Tom Lewis of the terrific SBNation Pacers blog Indy Cornrows. The Pacers are one of the surprise teams of the NBA this season, and Tom's insights are really helpful since we don't get to watch them out here that frequently. As always you can head over there to read my answers to his questions as well. Thanks for playing The Questionable Blogger, Tom!
Steve Perrin: Not unlike the Clippers, the Pacers started the season red hot but have cooled considerably since. In the first 22 games Indiana was 16-6 -- but they're just 9-12 in the last 21. Which record is more indicative of the true Pacers team? (I know you're going to say that the truth is somewhere in between, but I'm tired of the truth being somewhere in between dammit. Stupid grey area.)
Tom Lewis: Actually, for the Pacers the truth is never somewhere in between. Their level of play lands on a broad continuum from bad to good and when they are at the good end as they were early in the season and against Portland and Philadelphia last week, they can wear out any team. When things slip to the bad end, all bets are off and they look like the familiar frustrating bunch that we saw the past couple of seasons. The positive change this season has been their ability to beat and in many cases beat badly, sub-.500 teams. Taking care of those games has kept the season from going off the rails as they've struggled against playoff-caliber teams lately. I couldn't follow this team much closer than I do and I honestly have no idea what to expect from game to game at this point.
SP: It's pretty clear that Chicago and Miami are the top teams in the Eastern Conference, and Indiana seems to be pretty comfortably settled into the next group. If the playoffs were to start now, the Pacers would have home court advantage in a first round matchup. My question is -- can the Pacers possibly compete with the Bulls and the Heat in the playoffs, or is everyone else fighting for third place in the East?
TL: he Bulls and Heat are on a collision course, hard to see it going any other way at this point. Both Indiana and Philadelphia can put together great efforts and may get a game or two off of the top dogs, but winning four out of seven isn't happening. Orlando remains a threat and that may improve now that the trade deadline is past. They would need four games with solid perimeter shooting to win, though. That's tough to lean on at playoff time. Keep an eye on the Knicks. They just crushed the Pacers in two games, but did it with solid defense and an all-around team effort. Carmelo Anthony was fully engaged in both games but only took a TOTAL of 25 FGAs in the two games.
SP: Pacers President Larry Bird seems to be making all the right moves lately. Trades for Roy Hibbert, Darren Collison and George Hill have all paid dividends and Paul George looks like a steal from the 2010 draft. David West's numbers are way down from New Orleans, but even there, he's only signed to a two year deal so that was a calculated risk. How would you rate your front office's performance over the past few years (since after the big trade with Golden State, let's say)? What is the dynamic between Bird and GM David Morway?
TL: Bird and Morway have pretty much done what they said they would three years ago, using a heavy dose of patience to wait out bad contracts and now have the team on real solid footing going forward. They were able to bring in George Hill and David West without overpaying. West has been a huge addition in the locker room. Danny Granger is the team's captain in the program but West has the captain's voice among his teammates.
As far as the dynamic with Bird and Morway, they have been working together for several years now in different capacities but seem to complement each other quite well. Morway keeps tabs on a great scouting department and was key in bringing in Kevin Pelton to consult with statistical analysis. It was assumed that this may be Bird's last
season, which may or may not still be true, but Morway deserves to continue moving forward whenever Bird steps down.
SP: Aside from Danny Granger, David West and Dahntay Jones, the Pacers don't have anyone else on the books after this season that is not on a rookie scale contract. Consequently, the team has lots of cap space this summer. Former Clipper Eric Gordon is an Indianapolis native and something of a legend in the state. Do you think the Pacers will try to acquire Gordon this summer? What do you think the odds are the they'll be able to get him, given the fact that he's a restricted free agent and New Orleans can match any offer?
TL: The Pacers would LOVE to acquire Gordon and it will be interesting to see how things play out with EJ in New Orleans. First there is the injuries that keep popping up with Gordon which may keep him from maxing out. Plus, owner Herb Simon doesn't usually go after restricted free agents. Then there is still the good ol' NBA. We keep hearing about a sale of the Hornets but it never seems to happen. But it is up to Gordon and the Hornets since they can match any offer which will make it tough for the Pacers to add him next year without some sort of trade. So the odds are against the Pacers getting Gordon but that doesn't mean they don't want him.
SP: A follow up to the last question, all those young players on rookie scale deals will eventually reach free agency and of necessity be on non-rookie scale deals -- either with the Pacers or somewhere else. Hibbert and Hill are RFA's this summer, followed by Collison and Tyler Hansbrough a year later and George the year after that. That's three starters and two key reserves all looking to get paid over the course of three summers. Can the Pacers afford to keep these young guys in small market Indiana going forward?
TL: I don't know that the Pacers will keep all of them but they should be able to with their cap situation going forward and the altered salary structures we already saw kick in after the lockout. At this point, the most interesting case is Roy Hibbert. He started the year trending toward a max deal (neighborhood but not max) but his play of late has followed a similar decline to year's past which will definitely cost him some money. He is arguably the most popular player among the fans and community so the organization will be hard pressed to let him go, but I also don't think they will match any offer to keep him. Collison and Hansbrough are the most expendable among that group at this point while Paul George requires planning to make sure he is around for a long time.
SP: Coach Frank Vogel sort of came out of nowhere. He took over for the fired Jim O'Brien midway through last season and pulled off a are "interim-ectomy" when he was officially hired this summer. Are you happy with what Vogel has done with the team so far? Would you trade him to the Clippers straight up for Vinny Del Negro? What if we throw in a draft pick (a second rounder, let's not get nuts)?
TL: Vogel deserves a lot of credit for changing the identity of this team and squeezing a lot out of his roster. He is a preparation freak so he normally has his team prepared with a game plan that can be successful. Executing that game plan is a different story and Vogel does a good job with halftime adjustments but still struggles adjusting on the fly during the game, but then again so do his players. I'll pass on trading Frank for Vinny Del Negro, although we
might be able to work out a deal with Brian Shaw for a first rounder.
SP: The Pacers D-League affiliate right up Interstate 69 in Fort Wayne (which sounds dirty but really isn't) is the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Why are the Ants Mad? What happened to anger them?
TL: Hey, you get three ants together, they can't do dick. You get 300 million of them, they can build a cathedral. And when they're mad? Forget about it. Let me spread a little Fort Wayne history your way, really, you can't learn enough about Fort Wayne, Indiana. American Revolutionary War statesman General "Mad" Anthony Wayne is responsible
for building Fort Wayne so "Mad" Ant is a nickname derived from the General who was known to have a fiery temper and take his troops into some tough battles. I'm figuring a little like Stan Van Gundy without the sense of humor.
This is the kind of scintillating stuff you get on Clips Nation. Insightful Pacers analysis, and a brief history lesson on Fort Wayne Indiana. Thanks Tom!