If the Thunder rebuilding plan isn't so easy to attain, maybe the Raptors should be looking to the Indiana Pacers?
Since Oklahoma City's meteoric rise to prominence, there has been much discussion about using the Thunder as the blueprint for how to properly rebuild an NBA team, something my associate Scott Campsall touched on yesterday morning.
Based on yesterday's comments, it seems that the final agreement was that while the Thunder did a lot right in terms of surrounding elite talent with complementary pieces, there were some outlier qualities that accompanied this rebuild, most notably the acquisition of Kevin Durant.
Considering there isn't a "Durant" type in this draft, Anthony Davis is the closest thing, maybe the most realistic model for this club to follow is the one that their opponent last night has been executing on for years, the opponent being, yes, the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers didn't hit a home run by landing a number one overall pick or a "Durant." In fact their highest pick since 2005 was 10th overall, in 2010, when they drafted Paul George. Yet they find themselves as a top three team in the Eastern Conference, and back in the playoffs for a second straight season after years of lottery appearances. The Pacers missed the dance following the 2005-06 season, and only after a stretch of four straight lottery visits did they crawl back into the mix last year.
It's easy to say that Indiana turned things around thanks to some good fortune but in reality, with the exception of maybe Danny Granger falling to them at 17 in '05, the turnaround was accomplished through shrewd personnel decisions season after season and collectively, these accomplished the end goal of getting back to the playoffs and hopefully contending for an NBA title.
Tyler Hansbrough, AJ Price, Roy Hibbert, even the aforementioned George; these are hardly Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Harden, but in sum, and combined with various other moves such as the acquisitions of Darren Collison, George Hill, David West and Leandro Barbosa, the Pacers slowly righted the ship and got one of the NBA's more storied franchises, back on track.
Looking at the club last night you saw one that didn't dominate at one position, but that offered a myriad of options and depth across the board. It's an enviable club, one that not only has some great upside talent (Hibbert, George) but that also has some salary cap flexibility as well with contracts like those of Barbosa and James Posey coming off the books next season.
Isn't this description exactly what the Toronto Raptors should be striving for, in particular if they can't land a "Durant," or even Anthony Davis, type talent in the upcoming draft? I'd argue for Toronto, of the Thunder and Pacers rebuilding plans, the "Indiana approach" is the more realistic of the two, and one the team can really put into action this off-season.
Because let's face it. One of the main factors hampering an Indiana-style rebuild is the number of unknowns Raps are dealing with. Indiana was patient with Hibbert and after only a few seasons, are now being rewarded with one of the best big men in the game. George continues to improve and show scary upside, and even the much maligned Granger has been better this season now that he's got help at both ends. Outside of Hansbrough, who I'd argue has yet to live up to even his modest NBA expectations, the Pacers knew what they had to work with relatively quickly in the talent evaluation process, and could then make the necessary modifications to the club where they saw fit.
Contrast that with Toronto now.
The Dinos have enigmas in Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas may have a Hibbert career trajectory but has yet to arrive, and Ed Davis looks much more like Tyler Hansbrough than David West at this point.
As we discussed during the live blog last night, unfortunately the most certain pieces on this club from a "I know what to expect each night from this player" perspective are folks like Aaron Gray and Jamaal Magloire. Even last year's Mr. Consistency, Amir Johnson, has had an up and down campaign.
That's why to me this off-season is so important. Bryan Colangelo has to make some hard and fast decisions regarding his current personnel and considering individual play and injuries this season, that's not going to be an easy task. Larry Bird and the Pacers did a great job overall of knowing when to gamble on upside (Lance Stephenson could still turn out to be a steal of a second-rounder if he ever gets it together) and when to look for veteran help at the right cost. (See David West.)
We haven't seen that same clairvoyance from Mr. Colangelo at this stage (Hedo, Marion, JO...ugh) but in order to follow the Pacers' plan, he's going to need to do a better job in this capacity starting this June.
And hey, a little "OKC luck" along the way wouldn't hurt.