Odd Numbers Add Up to a Bright Future for the Pacers

It has been a long, exhausting road for the Indiana Pacers franchise to return to NBA relevance after hitting rock bottom beginning in 2004 after the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Indiana spent the next few seasons after the infamous brawl shipping every single player involved with that team out of town while trying to restructure their franchise with high-character players.

After making the playoffs nine seasons in row from 1998-2006, the Pacers have failed to reach the postseason in each of the past four seasons in an Eastern Conference where it doesn’t even take a winning record to nab the final playoff spot. With some of the fallout from the brawl still hanging over the Pacers franchise as well as the immense success of the Indianapolis Colts who only reside a few blocks away from Conseco Fieldhouse, the once beloved Pacers have almost become a forgotten franchise.

Before we hang our heads for too long reminiscing on the days of Reggie Miller, let’s dive into these odd numbers that resemble some light at the end of the tunnel for this Pacers team.

We’ll start with the three players who have established themselves as the promising young core for Indiana. The 1, 3, and 5 positions for the Pacers possess a lot of talent and unlimited upside.

The five position is anchored by center Roy Hibbert. Hibbert was overlooked in the lottery stage of the 2008 NBA Draft as a 7’2”shot blocker out of Georgetown. He was eventually taken with the 17th pick by the Toronto Raptors. You can’t blame the other 16 teams that passed on him either. A lot of 7 footers in college never develop in their four years and even more rarely go on to have promising NBA careers. Yet the Pacers saw value in Hibbert and acquired him in a trade that sent Jermaine O’Neal to the Raptors in 2008.

Hibbert has polished his offensive moves over the past two seasons and is already in the second tier of Eastern Conference centers behind Dwight Howard who stands alone at the top. He ended last season with a career high 29 points at Washington and kicked this season off with a 28 point effort at San Antonio. Hibbert has also shown great durability, only missing one game in the last season and a half. He’s only in his third year in the league and if he can continue showing this constant improvement, he could be controlling the paint for the Pacers for many years to come.

The three position is small forward Danny Granger who might be the most underrated player in the NBA. The Pacers hit the jackpot in the 2005 Draft when they took the unheralded Granger out of New Mexico with the 17th pick, the same selection as Hibbert in 2008.

He has been one of the lone bright spots for the organization over the past five seasons. Granger has shown the ability to be an elite scorer with his breakout season in 2008-09 when he averaged 25.8 points a game, earning his first All Star appearance and winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. He had a nine game stretch in March of last season where he averaged over 30 points a game. The Pacers have made a big investment in Granger with a contract extension through the 2014 season. He’s only 27 years old and he’s a great player to center a young team around.

The third and final player that rounds out the young Pacers trio is the one position, point guard Darren Collison. Exactly like Granger and Hibbert, Collison wasn’t a high draft pick. The New Orleans Hornets selected Collison 21st in 2009 to be a backup for Chris Paul. Yet after Chris Paul got injured midseason, Collison got a chance to put his point guard skills on display and man was it something to watch.

Darren Collison never showed explosive offensive potential in Ben Howland’s defensive-minded system at UCLA. Yet he surprised a lot of NBA fans with his ability to score, get out in transition, and find open shots for other teammates. He had one game last season where he dished out 18 assists and another where he had a Hornets rookie-high 20.

This past off season the Pacers really had their hands tied and weren’t able to mix their name in the talks for the big free agents. Yet Larry Bird was able to land DC in a four team trade that sent Troy Murphy to the Nets. Now Collison is the third piece of the young Pacers core and Jim O’Brien loves the fact that Collison buys in to his defensive style. The Pacers have lacked a consistent point guard that fans felt confident taking the reins since maybe Mark Jackson. Keep in mind that DC is only 23 years old.

So the odd-numbered positions (1, 3, and 5) provide an exciting future for the Pacers. Hibbert, Granger, and Collison are all young, all talented, and all looking to stay in Indianapolis to turn this franchise around.

The other key odd number that might me the most exciting is 31 million. That’s how much cap space the Pacers free up when Mike Dunleavy, Jeff Foster, TJ Ford, and Jamaal Tinsley’s (yes he’s still on the books) contracts expire at the end of this season. Granted it seems one off-season too late, there will still be some great names available for the Pacers to look to bring in and fill in the gaps for this young team on the rise.

With a resurgent fan base and a possible trip to the playoffs this year, the sky is the limit for Indiana moving forward. Plus you give Larry Bird 31 million dollars to bring in a few superstars and it wouldn’t be any surprise to see the Pacers rise to the top of the Eastern Conference in the next few years.

In a league that has been dominated by a few top teams like the Bulls, Lakers, and Celtics over the past few decades, the Pacers have every opportunity to become a small market team that competes for an NBA Championship in the coming seasons. Now wouldn’t that be odd?

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