NBA / Aug 12, 2010 / 12:45 pm

Ante Up: The Indiana Pacers are going to the playoffs

Danny Granger (photo. Stephen Hill)

“I am raising the stakes right now … If this is a poker game, I am shoving my chips right in the middle of the table. I am raising the ante. Anybody who wants out can get out. This team is going to the playoffs. OK? This team is going to the playoffs.”

I can just imagine Larry Bird repeating the mantra to himself the morning after pulling off a win-win trade for my Indiana Pacers while he’s at his home gym cashing 92 out of 100 threes before breakfast.

By acquiring Darren Collison and James Posey from the Hornets as part of a four-team swap in which Indiana gave up Troy Murphy, team president Bird addressed Indiana’s three biggest needs — point guard play, defense, veteran poise — and put the Pacers on track for their first playoff appearance since 2006; also the last time Indiana broke the 40-win barrier.

So I’m calling it now: The Pacers will be in the 2011 NBA playoffs.

There’s a lot to like about this roster, and it starts with Danny Granger. The common criticisms of Granger are that he’s not really a franchise guy, that he’s too in love with his outside shot, and that he can’t stay healthy. Even with my bias, I wouldn’t put Granger in that elite-elite class of small forwards in the League (LeBron, Carmelo, Pierce, Durant), but he’s only a notch below those guys and just a notch above fellow rising stars Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala. While we expect 6-foot-8 agile athletes to attack the rim on the regular, the jump shot is Granger’s bread-and-butter; it’s what made him the NBA’s Most Improved Player in ’09 when he dropped 25 points per game. And in truth, Granger took fewer threes last season than he did in his breakout year. If he can stay healthy enough to string together about 70 games and hit about 38-40 percent of his treys, Danny Buckets can definitely lead Indiana to a lower playoff seed in the East.

Roy Hibbert is Indiana’s other franchise cornerstone, a 23-year-old seven-footer who could be one of the League’s premier centers in a couple of years. He had some dominant games last season — e.g. dropping 25 points and 13 boards on Memphis, 20 points and 6 blocks on San Antonio, and 26 points, 8 boards and 4 blocks on Orlando — and this summer has been working with Bill Walton on refining his post moves and staying out of foul trouble. Look for Hibbert to have the kind of breakout season in ’10-11 that Brook Lopez had last season.

Collison is the newest part of Indiana’s young core. After a surprisingly effective rookie year in New Orleans, averaging 18.8 points and 9.1 assists in his 37 starts, he was on the Pacers’ radar all summer for a reason: He’s perfect for Coach Jim O’Brien‘s up-tempo offense. Collison plays fast, but he stays in control. He’s a four-year college player who saw action in multiple Final Fours with UCLA, so despite falling farther in the Draft than he should have, he came into the League more pro-ready than a lot of rookie point guards. When he’s not running Indy’s fast break, Collison’s dribble-penetration and court vision will create open shots for Granger on the wing and easy looks for Hibbert at the rim, as well as scoring opportunities for slashers like Dahntay Jones and Paul George, and shooters Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Brandon Rush.

Collison’s arrival also allows the Pacers to part ways with T.J. Ford, who although talented, just didn’t work out. Whether T.J. is bought out, waived, traded or Marburied, he’s likely not going to play at all for Indiana this season.

Surrounding the trio of Granger, Hibbert and Collison will be two-guard Rush, a Bird favorite who many believe is ready for a big season; rookie George, a highlight-reel athlete who can play the two or the three; Dunleavy, a great shooter and Indiana’s best playmaker over the last few seasons; Posey, a playoff-experienced vet who can still lock-up on defense; Jones, a younger defensive stopper; Josh McRoberts, a Murphy Lite who played well in the Orlando Summer League; and rookie Lance Stephenson, a power guard who also shined in the summer league. If ’09 Lottery pick Tyler Hansbrough, who was recently diagnosed with vertigo, can recover well enough to contribute significant minutes, he steps into the Blair/Big Baby/Varejao role of the hustler, rebounder and post defender every good team needs.

The East got tougher this summer. At the moment you’d have to consider Miami, Boston, Orlando, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Chicago locks for the postseason. That leaves two spots up for grabs, and seeing as 2010 playoff teams Cleveland and Charlotte haven’t improved, there’s a window for the Pacers to climb into.

And while it would almost certainly end quickly in four or five games, more important is the accomplishment and the symbolism. The franchise is getting back on track. And whether they grab an 8th or 7th seed or not, this upcoming season’s prospects at least fall more closely to Jim Fassel‘s playoff/poker quote than ex-NFL coach Jim Mora‘s more famous line:

Playoffs? Don’t talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me? Playoffs? I’m just hoping we can win another game!”

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  • http://www.more-sports.net andrew macaluso

    Haha I keep forgetting Austin is a Pacers fan. He’s a hell of a writer though, with Collison there’s no telling how good he could make Indiana. It’s a shame they ran in the stands when they did, it ruined their thuggish dynasty.

  • control

    I’d be willing to bet $100 that Indy don’t make the playoffs. They got some nice pieces, that if they gel properly this year, could make a run next year…but I don’t see them getting it done this year. Miami, Boston, Orlando, ATL, Chitown and maybe Milwaukee are pretty much locks to make the play offs unless something really serious happens. That only leaves two spots, and I know beasty teams like the Raps, Pisties and Cats don’t seem like that much, but Indy doesn’t really stand out over them by much (if at all).

  • Celts Fan

    Tough division to come out of, but I’m w/ you Austin. I think it’s between them and (don’t laugh) the Nets for the #8 seed. Granger’s legit, even if he’s probably a #2 on a true contender, and I’ve always liked Hibbert. I never got why so many people weren’t higher on him in college. What’s not to like about a guy who’s 7′ 2″, was, along w/ Jeff Green, the centerpiece of an extremely successful college team, and flashed a jumper here and there in school?

  • Chise

    hahahahaha. No. No they’re not going to the playoffs.

  • Chise

    Fuck. Now that I think about it… those last 2 spots in the East are pretty much up for grabs. The 7th and 8th seeds are gonna be pretty bad regardless. I honestly could see them being New York and New Jersey, which is even more laughable than Indiana. This should be interesting.

  • ICP

    @3 re:Hibbert Dude has a slow shuttle time. Scouts prefer 7′ who can race up and down and do work on foldable chairs (see Milicic and Yi Jianlin).

  • Spliff 2 My Lou

    Merely making the playoff’s doesn’t cut it anymore. You need to win and this Pacers team MIGHT make the playoff’s but they won’t win a game. I’m calling it now.

  • Celts Fan

    @chise – you’re right. think about it. there are some locks barring injuries.

    IN THE PLAYOFFS: (not seeded, just so I can count)
    1. Boston
    2. Orlando
    3. Miami
    4. Atlanta
    5. Milwaukee
    6. Chicago

    OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS
    Toronto
    Detroit
    Washington

    BATTLING IT OUT FOR THE 7TH AND 8TH SEED
    Charlotte (I see them juuuuuuuust missing it.)
    Philly (I 100% believe Iggy and Turner compliment each other well and aren’t redundant. If they play together w/ Jrue, I could see this team winning 30 games and just missing the Playoffs. If they trade Iggy, slide them into the no way in hell group. Either way, not this year.)
    New York (Just out)
    New Jersey (I think Brook Lopez takes a jump and I love TWill. In)
    Indiana (I’d say in)

  • Heckler

    this team aint making the playoffs. they just dont have any identity. they dont play defense and alls they do is shoot 3s on offense. they can’t win on the road. and if granger doesnt score 25+pts a night, they struggle to get points. especially in half court.

    their bench is waaay to weak to carry them through a regular season. earl watson, dahntay jones, james posey, josh mcroberts…really? this weak ass bench is what you expect to help get you to the playoffs?

    Austin, its sad Seattle lost the Sonics. but you REALLY need to bandwagon on another franchise. you can do better than the Indy Pacers

  • Heckler

    will the Pacers even win more games than the Cleveland Cavs?

    I’m not so sure.

  • LMNOP

    The Pacers roster except Granger are all either past it or not quite there yet.

    If EVERYTHING goes perfect for them and Hibbert, Rush, Hansborough & McRoberts all have break out years, Granger and Dunleavy stay healthy and Collison proves his play in NO was no fluke, they could get 40 wins, but thats alot of things that need to go right for a team were nothing ever goes right.

    My bold prediction….. Bobcats and Knicks make the 7 and 8 spots in the east and a stack of injuries, unmet potential, another 35 win season and another mid lottery pick await the Pacers.
    The Nets make the playoffs in 2012 but this season the High point for the Nets comes when the Troy Murphy/Brook Lopez combo win an award for the Ugliest starting front court in the history of professional basketball.

  • SJ

    Pacers will make a decent playoff run this year, barring any injuries. Collison solves their biggest problem and now Granger has someone who can pass.

  • fallinup

    Pacers got a chance just for the sake of elimination. We got six teams in the east bound to make the playoffs barring injury… but with the Cavs going from best in the east to worst… it’s up for grabs. And yeah, they have a chance for the last two spots… but I’d like to see it happen before I make any Austin type predictions. Granger’s gotta stay healthy for 1.

  • Robmo35

    When describing Danny Granger I think you forgot the fr in front of agile. Good luck with the lottery

  • SJ

    Granger really isn’t ‘fr’agile. He had some issues with his foot and caused other issues. It can happen to anyone. I remembered not too long ago he chased down a ball and Paul Pierce landed on his face, busting out a few of his front teeth. He came back after a minute to finish the game.

  • LockItUpNow

    There is a lot of naysayers on this board. Funny thing, I don’t think Austin went far enough. Go ahead, laugh now. I don’t even like the Pacers as a fan of basketball (Jim O’brien is a tool). BUT, they are a top 4 seed with this move. Bank on it. Pacers get past the first round in the 2010-2011 playoffs sending Atlanta home early. Don’t believe me? I have seen it in my crystal basketball. It shall come to pass.

    And to he who spoke so negatively about the Pacers bench – tsk tsk tsk tsk…Earl Watson isn’t even on the team you doofus. Secondly, Paul George, Magnum Rolle (unsigned but will be signed), Lance Stephenson, Mike Dunleavy, Dahntay Jones, Jeff Foster, James Posey, McBob and others – I would take that over almost any bench out there!

    Stop hating, start appreciating, no need to keep deliberating, other teams will soon start replicating…the Pacers are matriculating (i.e. graduating).

  • Stunnaboy09

    Granger is a legit 25 point scorer and with the right supporting cast they could mkae the playoffs. All depends on Hibbert and Rush, both have star potential and with the right help they could reach it. If anyone of them do they make the the 8th, maybe 7th seed in the playoffs.

  • http://nbainstl.blogspot.com StrengthSTL

    I think the race for the last two spots in the east will be pretty competitive. The Pacers are an upstart the other teams in contention for the final two spots are on the bubble. Cleveland, Bobcats, Philly. If they address their needs and if teams stay healthy they can make a push. Detroit still has Prince and Hamilton on the trading block and they could help a few teams if Detroit isn’t shy about trading in their conference.

    All in all, no the Pacers will not be making the playoffs.
    Let’s not forget the Nets either. The Pacers have their work cut out for them.

  • NoStrengthSTL

    Post No. 18 – wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and so wrong, it p*sses me off wrong!

  • sh!tfaced

    If the Pacers are healthy all season, why the hell not…

  • fallinup

    @ 16

    4th in the East???!!!

    LockItUpNow is hallucinating.

  • LockItUpNow

    @21

    Seeing the future is not an hallucination. It’s a gift. I will be expecting your apology when the Pacers clinch the 4th spot in the EAST.

  • K Dizzle

    Pacers are NOT makin the playoffs.
    Mia, Bos, Orl, Atl, Mil, Chi, Bobcats. Are they really better than the Knicks, Sixers, Pistons? Not feelin so.
    And I liked Magnum Rolle in summer league. Dude is super long, but he would be the 16th man on this roster and I believe teams can only carry 15…

  • LockItUpNow

    Yes, teams can only carry 15. Rolle will be signed when Ford is shipped out for peanuts.

    Pacers do make the playoffs…geesh people. Sixers, Knicks (even with Amare) and Pistons are barely in contention for the last spot. Give the Pacers some love. Have ya’ll not watched Hibbert & Granger?

    I know in summer league Scotty Skiles (at his current age) would look like Jordan himself (due to the scrubs on the court) but still, Stephenson, McRoberts, Rolle, and George were smokin’ (in fact, Rolle, Stephenson, and George were rated 1,2, and 3 respectively in overall Summer League performance charts comparing all teams). Ya’ll underestimate the Pacers drastically.

  • Stokely

    They ain’t winning shit. in fact I hope they’re so bad my man granger demands a trade. Grander for Luol ding-dong.

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    1. Miami
    2. Orlando
    3. Boston
    4. Chicago
    5. Atlanta
    6. Milwaukee

    I see the Wizards and Bobcats as being next most likely to make it in, although they have a BRUTAL division in which they play. Philly and Indiana could make things interesting. Don’t see it from NY, Raptors, or Detroit.

    Obviously first round fodder either way.

  • Octopus Jonny

    To dude calling the Pacers a top 4 team in the east, PLEASE pass that blunt! But yeah…way the fuck off man, not even close. A top 4 with that move? That bench screams unproven with the mild exception of Posey, who hasn’t done anything of note in 3 years. Don’t get me wrong, if these guys mesh and grow together they could have a nice group in 2-3 seasons, but they will be very lucky to get an 8 seed this year. They aren’t touching the Bucks or the Bulls in the Central and will most likely be right with Detroit record wise.

  • http://www.keenanivor.com KBknowssports

    What would be great is if the pacers traded T.J. Ford, and Dunleavy to portland for SG Rudy Fernandez and and
    PF cunningham

  • KnicksFan84

    Only thing the Pacers are on pace for (get it) is another trip to the lottery. Too many 4 year old scrubby college guys on this team.

  • kdm

    give love to the pacers, i think they’re even better than the bucks. if not now, they will soon be. and that’s super soon.

  • http://www.keenanivor.com KBknowssports

    Larry Bird is the right guy for the job

  • http://www.keenanivor.com KBknowssports

    if bird can steal a forward like J.J. Hickson the pacers are back in the playoffs

  • Gnasche

    The best way for a young team to get into the playoffs is to have Larry Brown coach them for two years. Bring him back if Jordan gets too hands-on.

  • CB

    The Nets are going to beat out the Pacers? Really? They won 12 games, Brooke Lopez going to beat everyone himself? I don’t know if it’s because they are a small market team, but they apparently get no love. The only sure things are Miami, Orlando and Boston. I would probably call Atlanta and Chicago locks, but one injury and they are not going anywhere. The Pacers are an intriguing team.

    They have an emerging center with Hibbert who is a step below Lopez at this point, and with what I have heard, he may catch him this year. Granger is an all-star, and may have gone more already if not for the SF quality in the east. Rush is probably played out IMO, but I have also heard rumors that he could have a breakout year. I will see it to believe though. Collison should be an excellent addition, if not blame JOB, who they should probably fire. McRoberts, Foster, and Dunleavy are not bad backups. Hansbourgh was looking impressive for a rookie as well, till he got his mystery illness. Still I hear he is healthy for next season. And so far according to summer league, the Pacers have the best incoming rookie class. Which may not pan out. But I bet one of those guys does.

    This team has a lot of potential. They could sneak into the playoffs this year. And maybe even place third or higher in the division. Depending on how Bogut and Jennings progress, and health, for the Bucks. I bet they get in to the 40’s for wins. Cleveland is going to suck and are probably demoralized and suck with James leaving. I think their defense at the point will increase and at PF, both TJ and Murphy are useless defensively. I wouldn’t underestimate this team too much.

  • http://www.keenanivor.com KBknowssports

    The Pacers are a power forward away from being a pretty good team…