The Indiana Pacers are the best story in the playoffs. Yeah, we all love seeing Timmy dominate the Clippers, but who didn't see that coming. Same for Kobe and the Lakers melting down and the Celtics continuing to win games. The most interesting thing about the Pacers-Heat series isn't why Spoelstra and Wade are fighting or whatever. It is about how far the Pacers have come and how good they are going to be.
Larry Bird got the GM of the year award, but he had been setting this one up for at least 2 years. He used the draft well, managed the salary cap, and then used a couple acquisitions to get the Pacers in position to win for a long time. Comparatively, our team could be in a similar situation within 2 years if they make similar moves.
Making the Comparison
The Pacers back then had some young talent in Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert which are comparable to Stuckey and Greg Monroe, definite NBA starters. The Pacers and Pistons just finished signing their perimeter players to long-term deals, and their bigmen out of Georgetown were in the second year of their rookie deals. Their roster was filled with other young players like the athletic caucasian, young forward (Josh Mc Roberts, Jonas Jerebko) a bunch of questionable back-up point guards, and some first round pick that might never reach their promise (Brandon Rush, Ausitn Daye).
Pacers had a bunch of older players taking up over $30 million of capspace (T.J. Ford, Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy). The Pistons have a bunch of old players taking up over $30 million of capspace (Ben Gordon, Charlie V, Tayshaun Prince, The ghost of Rip Hamilton).
The Pistons missed the playoffs, ranking 10th overall in the Eastern Conference and finished Fourth in the Central Division, all just like the Pacers of '10. The Pacers showed strong play in the second half of the previous season, with a 4 and 5 game win-streaks in March and April.
Not to mention the Hall-Of-Fame GM's, the layoff runs in the 2000's, and the Midwestern hard-work philosophy. I think it's ok to say they are a fair comparison.
Given that we're in similar situations, let's see what we need to do in the next few years.
Using the Draft Well
Pacers went into that offseason looking at 1 top ten pick and 2 second rounders. They used that on Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and Ryan Reid. Paul George makes sense, a physical specimen that is a solid component to their established star Danny Granger on the perimeter. They took a chance on another wing player in Lance Stephenson, a character case, who you may remember from "Gunning for that number one spot" or from the heat game where he got fined making the choke gesture on the bench. I'm not googling the other guy.
Pistons are going into the offseason looking to make similar moves with 1 top ten pick and 2 second rounders. They will need to get a Big that complements their established star and probably another big in the second who hopefully isn't an idiot.
The Pacers used their next draft pick to get an NBA caliber playoff contributor in George Hill, filling a huge void they had at point guard, even though he doesn't start. The Pistons should consider doing, literally, the exact same thing.
Manage the Salary Cap
The Pacers held on to their capspace and did not blow it on some stupidness. Troy Murphy was used in order to get the point guard Collison, but they waited for Ford and Dunleavy to run out. Then they did something radical, they signed a good player to a reasonable contract, and saved the rest of the money to keep so they can re-sign their young players. Now the Pacers current salary situation is so good it's comical.
The Pistons, it seems, are doing something similar with their current salary situation, hanging on to Ben Gordon and Charlie V might be smart because the year they come off the Pistons will need to be locking up Greg Monroe to a long term deal and saving up to offer Jonas and others deals in the near future.
Make Key Acquisitions
This season the Pacers had to put the final touches on this team, and so they waived some bench fodder, traded Brandon Rush for the grittier Louis Amundson, traded a second rounder for Leandro Barbosa, and signed Kryrlo Fesenko. While small, these touches are going to help their team go from a first round knockout to a second round competitor.
While the Pistons have lots of clear holes in their lineup, and while they could be filled now, it may be foolish not to wait until later. May as well get big pieces of our roster in by making solid draft picks, and giving them time to develop. Don't worry about filling in the gaps until the team is close to contending, much like the Pacers did.
...Or Just Screw It All Up
A lot of people don't like this path, but then again a lot of people don't like the Pacers. There may be other ways to rebuild, but they don't really make sense. It is so much more tempting to imagine that the Pistons will Amnesty Charlie V and Ben Gordon now, use the money left over to sign a superstar to a max contract, perhaps Deron Williams or Dwight Howard or something. Sure, we could do that. We could imagine that we're going to trade for Tyreke Evans and sign Kevin Garnett too. It seems like common sense to not do that. Luckily there is no way we have to worry about something like that actually happening. I mean at least we don't have a GM who would sacrifice a well thought out rebuilding effort to go chase after some superstar. Or at least not twice. Hopefully Dumars will stick to the plan and wind up winning GM of the year in 2015 instead.
It's pretty simple: 1) Use the Cap Well: Draft someone we can use next season that addresses a need, not some "upside" project that may make sense down the road. 2) Manage the Salary Cap: Don't blow our future to give Maxiell a golden parachute, don't trade for a veteran with an albatross of a contract and don't re-sign rookies who won't play (Looking at Daye here). 3) Make Key Acquisitions: No team in the league has gone longer without a trade. If we're going to hop off the fence, and we need to, it better be for a player that fits what we have going on. Sign some real players too, but not your buddies' cousins who you taught how to pump fake, real players that can actually contribute.
ED. Added the last little bit.