INDIANAPOLIS — Taken separately, the Indiana Pacers’ recent moves have left open the door for criticism.
Viewed as a whole, however, the net result has been a gain in size, depth and talent for the roster.
After retaining restricted free agent starters Roy Hibbert (four years, $58 million) and George Hill (five years, $40 million), team President Donnie Walsh and General Manager Kevin Pritchard made a series of aggressive moves to strengthen the second unit.
Free agent center Ian Mahinmi (four years, $16 million) was acquired from Dallas in a sign-and-trade deal that sent Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones to the Mavericks. Gerald Green (three years, $10 million) and D.J. Augustin (one year, $3.4 million) were signed as free agents.
“To all those people who criticize it, I would say this: Give us a chance to play and take a look at it before you make a quick judgment,” Walsh said Friday at a press conference announcing the Hibbert and Hill deals. “That’s how all this winds up — are we a better team?”
The move that brought the most criticism was the Mahinmi trade. The Pacers could’ve simply signed him as an unrestricted free agent — but that would’ve mitigated against their ability to acquire either Green or Augustin. By clearing the salaries of Collison ($2.3 million) and Jones ($2.9 million), the Pacers were able to bring in the free agents while also retaining Hibbert and Hill.
“You don’t really know until you see it play out but we were scared to death all last year about the depth at the center position,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “We played a power forward (Lou Amundson) at the center position and fortunately we were able to get an extremely good year out of Roy Hibbert. But if we would’ve had any injuries there last year it would’ve been catastrophic.
“So our first focus was to find a starter-level backup center to have behind Roy. We looked at free agency and it turned out we had to make a deal to make that happen. It made sense for us. All these pieces all seem like they fit. On paper, it should be a stronger bench than we had last year and we’re looking forward to seeing it play out next season.”
The Pacers finished last season with the following second-unit lineup: Collison, Leandro Barbosa, Jones, Tyler Hansbrough and Amundson.
They enter this season with a very different look: Augustin, Lance Stephenson, Green, Hansbrough and Mahinmi.
That not only is a much bigger but also much more potent group.
“I really feel like we strengthened our bench with the moves that we’ve done the last couple of days,” Hibbert said. “Seriously, the starters feel like we’d put in a lot of work and we’re up by 12, 15 points and then the lead’s cut or we’re down by eight when we go back in. I think we’ve brought in some players that can really score and defend at the same time.”
Though he started 141 games in four seasons with the Bobcats, Augustin is willing to accept the backup role with a contending team. He upgrades the team’s 3-point shooting (.374 for his career) and playmaking (he averaged more than six assists the past two seasons).
“He really has a great feel for the game,” Vogel said. “He’s a great pick-and-roll player. Guys really like playing with him and he stretches the court, shoots the three. And it’s not just catch-and-shoot situations, you can’t go under his pick-and-rolls, either, or he’ll drill it. He’s someone that always scared us when we played against them.”
Green entered the league with obvious talent and just as obvious immaturity, After bouncing around for a few years he returned last season with the Nets and averaged 12.9 points and 3.5 rebounds while showing not only much better poise but an improved 3-point shot (a career-best .391).
“He didn’t know what he was walking into when he came into the league the first time,” Walsh said. “He had unbelievable talent but he was just all over the place. Then he got knocked around the league, then China, then Moscow, he’s been everywhere, this kid. Now he’s back. In Jersey last year, everybody was impressed by what they saw. I would also add in China and Moscow he had great coaching so he has progressed his game and I think that will continue. With his athletic ability he could have a gigantic upside.”
The 6-11, 230-pound Mahinmi averaged 5.8 points and 4.7 rebounds for the Mavericks last season and brings much-needed size, athleticism and defensive presence to the second unit. Though the Pacers just invested a first-round pick in 6-11 Miles Plumlee, Mahinmi gives them an experienced player ready to step in immediately while the rookie develops.
“You’re bringing in a veteran guy who can be a backup,” Walsh said. “It’s going to take time for Plumlee to reach the player he’s going to be and there’s no better way than to be with two guys that are veterans. I think this will help him.”
The Pacers didn’t make many headlines with their recent flurry of activity but believe they have made a better team.