Pacers Poised To Steal The Central Behind Kevin Pritchard

Before Larry Legend walked away on top for the third time in his NBA career — Bird being the only man to have won MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year — feeling the franchise was on the right track, he made a couple of solid moves, the first being to remove the interim tag from Frank Vogel’s name tag after Vogel vaulted the Indiana Pacers up in the Eastern Conference standings last season.

Bird then turned the roster reigns over to a man frankly long overdue to once again try and guide a franchise to the next level, Kevin Pritchard, promoting him to GM. Pritchard was the first victim in a recent long general management unemployment line drawn in Portland under the bizarre direction of the eccentric Paul Allen, even after guiding them back to the playoffs from a five-year absence.

Sure, Pritchard laid a couple of eggs like Greg Oden, and landed an eventual lemon in Brandon Roy, but they were well calculated risks going in that few teams would have passed on given circumstances, and even really good GMs drop a few pebbles from time to time. All in all, at a glance, Pritchard has a better overall record than the Chicago Bulls’ Gar Forman, who seems to have a penchant for a little luck and a propensity to fill holes with puzzling  lower-end free agents.

Our buddy Jared Wade took a good look inside some of the early maneuverings from Pritchard, who wasted no time jumping right into his role with the confidence of a man who knows what he wants, what he needs. Ironically, Pritchard had to pony up to one of his old tricks from his former franchise to hang onto Roy Hibbert.

On Portland giving Hibbert a max offer right out the gate: “If you look at the history of the league, usually in the first week of free agency, big guys get the biggest offers and the quickest offers. So we were pretty prepared.”

Pritchard knew he needed more size-wise than the barely serviceable, if admirable, Lou Amundson and Tyler Hansbrough.

On rationale behind acquiring Ian Mahinmi: “When you go against the top teams — specifically in the East — you better have rim defenders. And we needed another rim defender. We felt like when Roy went out of the game, we didn’t have as much size. So we really needed some size.”

-Eight Points, Nine Seconds, Kevin Pritchard Discusses the Pacers’ Offseason

He followed that up by inviting the former Utah Ute, Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, Luke Nevill, to training camp. Even if the Aussie press is unimpressed with the move, damning Nevill to “effectively be the third-fiddle centre,” that means the Pacers have three 7-footers in training camp this fall, four if you count the 6′ 11.75″-in shoes Miles Plumlee, who has a 7’1″ wingspan.

Pritchard has proven his savvy by drawing the ire of Utah Jazz fans repeatedly. While at Portland Pritchard treated the Jazz like his own personal farm system, first front-loading a contract for Paul Millsap the Jazz felt they had to match, limiting Utah’s upcoming options in free agency, then stealing gem in the rough Wesley Matthews the following year, a move many fans still feel was a low note in Jazz history.

Heads up, Gar. If Kevin can’t beat you on the court, he’ll try like hell to beat you off it every off-season.

Wade continues:

On the logic behind trading Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones for Mahinmi prior to signing DJ Augustin and Gerald Green:  ”We had to do that to meet certain restrictions in using our cap space. We did it a little bit differently in that we had a pretty good feeling we were going to get a good point guard in DJ Augustin … We had been in contact with his agent. He was [a restricted free agent] but, just the way it shook out, we had a good feeling that we were going to be able to bring him in. So it looked backwards the way it was reported when in actuality it wasn’t like that.”

My take on that last part: It seems as though this was all one big mega-deal in the mind of the Pacers front office.

While on paper this may feel like something of a lateral move at point guard, Collison has been a bad fit for the Pacers, his numbers steadily declining, with Collison dishing a career low assists last season, at 4.8, and a mere 24.9 AST%, very low for a point. On the other hand, Augustin was poised for a breakout season before nagging, minor injuries were blamed for a prolonged shooting slump. Nevertheless, Augustin managed to continue distributing at a career rate with new highs in assists, 6.4, and AST%, 38.9, a prospect likely to suit both his role and the Pacers’ plan more smoothly, and overall, Augustin in four years has shot .374 from 3 to Collison’s .363 in three years.

Oddly enough, I feel like David West should benefit more from Augustin than he did with Collison, despite former team ties on the New Orleans Hornets. “Hey, look! We don’t need Chris Paul after all!” was fun in 2010 and all, but the snickers were quickly turning to groans in Indiana.

The Pacers’ roster just feels right now. Balanced.

Pritchard on that: “There are all kinds of studies out there in the last four or five years that say one of the most important things is keeping your core together — allowing them to grow, allowing them to learn each other. And we feel like we accomplished that.”

West will again play offensive anchor while Hibbert, George, and Augustin find their NBA footing on the next level, while behind the scenes Pritchard will continue to quietly upgrade and plug holes, fill needs. He was a perfect fit for this franchise. Many others will be sorry they passed on him for so long.

Few may be talking about the Pacers as contenders for the East, perplexing to me on some level after last year — they didn’t get worse — but if you sleep on Kevin Pritchard he’ll sneak right up and steal your thunder.