As a sports fan, how can your favorite month be anything other than October?
As we get ready to begin the last week of the month, here is where we stand. College football is at the halfway mark, and the NFL is just about there. MLB has the World Series set with the Giants and Rangers, which begins Wednesday. The NASCAR season has just four more races before they crown their champion. The NHL season is underway, and College Basketball is right around the corner.
Add all of that on top of the NBA season set to tip-off this coming Tuesday, and you’ve got the best month in sports, hands down.
The NBA will officially open up the season on Tuesday night, with a fantastic lineup of games. The new “big three” in Miami goes up against the old “big three” in Boston. The defending champion Lakers will also face a stiff test against the Rockets. The Pacers will open up their season the following day, a Wednesday night game in San Antonio.
The Pacers open up this season on the road, for a game against the Spurs and a trip to Charlotte to play the Bobcats on Friday night. The next night the Pacers will have their home-opener against the Philadelphia 76ers at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The local radio shows and websites that are associated with the Pacers may be a little high with their expectations, but as far as the national media goes, the Pacers are right where most of us would put them. On the Sports Illustrated NBA page, they have their Power Rankings for this upcoming season. The Pacers are slotted in 20th. No surprise there, nor should there be.
The Pacers haven’t done anything yet to change the perception of what this team is. Of course, this could change with time, but playing six preseason NBA games won’t tell anybody anything. Until the finished product is on the court and has some real games under their belt, there is no reason to think that these Pacers are headed back to the playoffs.
First things first: The Pacers must trim their roster before the season begins. Right now they have 16 players on the active roster, which needs to be at 15 by next week. Lance Allred was let go a couple of days ago, but they still need to make one more cut.
The Pacers could try a two-for-one trade to make the necessary changes to the roster, but they don’t want to give away any expiring contracts either. If I had to guess, I would say the Pacers are on the fence with three guys: Solomon Jones, Dahntay Jones, and Magnum Rolle.
Obviously they just signed Rolle to a contract, so I doubt he is the odd man out here. Dahntay might be a stretch too, so it appears that Solomon might be the one to get cut. The Pacers are thin at that position though, so there might be a surprise cut. That could be James Posey. The Pacers need his three-point shooting and veteran leadership, but where does he fit in?
The Pacers will look to lean on their leader Danny Granger, while giving more responsibility and pressure to perform to Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert, who they look to turn into leaders. Hibbert has improved tremendously over the off-season, with his well-documented workout routines and MMA training. His work with Bill Walton and other legendary big men has also paid dividends.
While Roy enters his third year with the team, the Pacers are also counting on second-year player and new Pacers point guard Darren Collison to blossom. His play during Chris Paul’s absence last year in New Orleans is what most folks are going off of, but this is a different team with different weapons around him.
The pick-and-roll game he had with David West is not the same here with Hibbert, McRoberts, or Hansbrough. He will have to adjust his game, but he knew that coming in.
Another interesting scenario that we will keep an eye on in the early part of the season with the Pacers is the shooting guard position. The Pacers will be without Brandon Rush for the first five games of the season, but Head Coach Jim O’Brien had some harsh words for Rush’s position. He said he has Mike Dunleavy, Paul George, and Dahntay Jones ahead of Brandon on the depth chart.
We will have to see how long Dunleavy can stay healthy, and if Paul George can slide into the SG spot next to Granger at SF. If he can do that, what will happen with Rush? Will Dahntay still be around? None of those guys could see any time at the point, because the depth chart is already set there with Collison, Price, and Ford.
Coach O’Brien said that he plans on using an eight-to-ten man rotation for the majority of the season. Basically, there will be at least five guys who see little to no action on a nightly basis. If you have a depth chart with the starters and backups at every position, this creates an interesting situation.
I have the five starters as Collison, Dunleavy, Granger, McRoberts, and Hibbert. Their backups: Price, Posey, George, Hansbrough, and Foster. There are three guys fighting for a spot in the rotation, and only two of them will get it: Rush, Posey, and George. Posey and George can both play the SG and SF position. Rush can really only play at SG. Does this make him the odd man out?
Injuries will always pop up and play a role in things as well. When those come, the guys not in the normal rotation need to be ready to step in. This team doesn’t have much experience at all, and the veterans they have (Foster, Posey) don’t exactly have a full tank of fuel. It appears that both Granger and Ford will be healed and ready to go by Wednesday for the opening game of the season in San Antonio.
The competition within the division will be different this year. Obviously the loss of LeBron James has let the air out of the tires in Cleveland. They still have a decent squad, and I expect every game to be competitive.
The Pistons still have a mixture of veterans and young guys, but it seems to be a work in progress still. Anytime these two get together though, one team seems to step up and take it.
The Bucks are a team on the rise, and last year proved that. Even though injuries hurt them towards the end of last season, they showed that they had quality bench players who could step up in their absence. They have a talented roster, and I expect them in the playoffs again this year.
The class of the division this year would seem to be the Bulls. They loaded up their roster with guys that can pound inside like Carlos Boozer. They added a lethal shooting weapon in Kyle Korver, and a few more guards that should add even more depth. They are still young too, which is scary when you consider guys like Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah. I would be stunned if the Bulls did not win the division this year.
When you consider what the Pacers have, after all they have been through since “The Brawl,” it really is a good roster. These guys are young, and they have a few veteran guys that can mold them and guide them along the way.
I’m not truly expecting the Pacers to make the playoffs this year, but I would be surprised if we don’t get there next year. Of course the East is getting deeper with teams like Miami, Boston, Orlando, Chicago, Atlanta, and Milwaukee.
Within two years though, I don’t expect the Celtics to be at the same level, as they will just lose too much talent. I also think if the Hawks don’t get to the Eastern Conference Finals this year or next, I think they could end up blowing up that experiment. The roster is nice, but for whatever reason, it’s just not there come playoff time.
If Carmelo and Chris Paul both decide to go from the West to the East, that could really hurt the Pacers in the near future. No way either of them come here, and if they both end up going to New York, nothing else would sicken me as a life-long Pacers fan. Right now though the focus will be on the start of the season.
I think with three or four spots being open next year and the year after, the Pacers can grab one of them. I’m not saying they are going to get the seven seed and beat the two seed, but you have to start somewhere. Baby steps. Get back into the playoffs first, and keep building on that. That’s really all you can do.
Everyone wants the Pacers to return to the glory days when we went to the playoffs every single year, which always ended with a clash with either Jordan and the Bulls, or Ewing and the Knicks. Yes, those were the best of times, but nobody has a time machine, and number 31 isn’t putting on that uniform anymore.
The Pacers are moving in the right direction, and that’s all you can ask of them.
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