They're too bad to put together a winning season, but they're too good to win the draft lottery and stumble upon an elite draft pick that can turn their franchise around. They're stuck in the middle, and that's never a good place to be. In this league, 35-win seasons tend to breed more 35-win seasons. Larry Bird was always a champion as a player, but as an executive, he's got to learn how to win all over again.
2009-10 Record: 32-50 (fourth in Central Division, 10th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs)
Celtics' record vs. Pacers: 79-65 all time, 2-1 last season
Familiar faces: President Larry Bird (Celtics legend), coach Jim O'Brien (former Celtics coach), James Posey (played on Celtics' 2008 championship team), Dahntay Jones (originally drafted by Celtics), A.J. Price (played at UConn)
Key additions: James Posey, Darren Collison (both acquired from Hornets in four-way trade), Paul George (draft), Lance Stephenson (draft)
Key losses: Troy Murphy (sent to Nets in Posey/Collison deal), Luther Head (remains a free agent)
Burning question: Who has a breakout year for the Pacers?
Danny Granger is really, really good. He's 27 years old and he's already one of the best wing scorers in the league — he's the kind of guy you can build a franchise around. With Granger, the Pacers are set. They've got their cornerstone guy for the next decade.
But if they want him to stick around, they've got to build a winning team around him. That means they need another star.
Who will bust out and become a legitimate second option on a lackluster Pacers roster? Roy Hibbert is a candidate — he's 23 and has the raw tools to be an All-Star if he keeps developing. Tyler Hansbrough is 24, and if he can be anywhere near as dominant in the NBA as he was at North Carolina, the Pacers are onto something. And then there's Brandon Rush, who's steadily gotten better over the last two years and now, at 25, could develop into a second wing scorer next to Granger.
All of these guys have potential. But if the Pacers really want to win, then at least one of them has to hurry up and realize it. Otherwise we're looking at another year of mediocrity in Indiana.
2010-11 outlook: Thrty-five, 36, 36, 32. Those are the Pacers' win totals over the last four seasons, and there's no reason to expect a change now. Granger is one heck of a player, but he's in danger of wasting away the prime years of his career for a team that's going nowhere fast. The Pacers are still a long way away from being a contender in even the weak Central Division. Unless they shake things up in a big way, they can look forward to another season of winning 30-something games and watching the playoffs from home.
Did you know? Larry Bird is one of four NBA GMs with a Celtics connection. Current C's executive Danny Ainge played in Boston in the 1980s, Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace previously ran the Celtics for 10 years, and Rockets GM Daryl Morey also worked briefly in the Celtics' front office before taking the reins in Houston.