The Indiana Pacers came into this season looking like as legitimate a threat to the Miami Heat as there was in the East (we had them with the two seed in our preseason predictions), but with no Danny Granger there were questions about how the team would respond and score.
Turns out, the Pacers without Granger were still very good — 49 regular season wins then they pushed Miami all the way to Game 7 of the conference finals.
The off-season plans for the team? First, keep everyone. Starting with free agent David West.
“He’s our priority No. 1,” Team president Donnie Walsh said at a press conference Thursday. “We want David back, we think he’s one of the anchors of our team. He’s a terrific player and we want him back.”
“I would add one thing to that,” Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard said. “He knows that we’re in a great position going forward. He’s priority No. 1 and come July 1 we will have a lot of conversations.”
July 1 is the first day teams can talk to free agents about new deals. West has said he wants to return to the Pacers, but you can be sure other teams will come calling.
But the Pacers can’t just bring back the same guys and expect to step past the Heat. They need some depth.
“I think we can get better shooting, as every team in the league can get,” Walsh said. “I think we could get a defensive player or two at different positions, playmakers. So we’re looking at those elements.”
Some of those come in the form of a healthy Danny Granger, who is expected to be healthy next season after missing one due to knee surgery.
“As we move forward and Danny gets back into the lineup, whether on the bench or starting, that allows us to have one more player that has a lot of experience out there.”
The buzz around the league is that the Pacers may shop Granger this summer, and more at the deadline. The reason is money. Paul George is on his rookie deal next season but will get a max extension this summer (kicking in for the 2014-15 season) and with that the Pacers are going to have to look to trim salary somewhere down the line. Granger could help bring in the depth they need and save money, but the Pacers are not rushing into a decision.
The other question over this team — is Larry Bird coming back to replace Walsh as team president? Walsh is okay with the idea, but he doesn’t know.
“I don’t know what Larry wants to do,” Walsh said. “It remains what I said since the day I got here and probably every day since, that I’d love to see him come back. He knows he can come back.”