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After trading away their franchise player Jermaine OíNeal, the Indiana Pacers are in full rebuilding mode. The Pacers acquired T.J. Ford in the OíNeal deal, giving them a true leader at the point guard position. Along with the super talented Danny Granger, and ever-improving Mike Dunleavy Jr., T.J. Ford will bring some stability to this team. The Pacers also acquired guard Brandon Rush in a draft day deal with Portland, and he should be a great fit in the young lineup. The Pacers have made some truly beneficial moves in the offseason, but are still missing a few pieces that could turn them into a contender. One thing is for sure, though, they will be a much improved team this season.

Offense: Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy were the top playmakers for this team last season, considering their lack of a true, or healthy, point guard. Now, the Pacers have T.J. Ford, who is a great addition to the offense, and with his lightning-quick first step, should be able to create many opportunities and open shots for his sharp-shooting teammates on the perimeter. Though the addition of T.J. Ford is great, the Pacers know the risks of having one starting-caliber point guard. So, in addition to receiving Brandon Rush from the Blazers, the Pacers also acquired young guard Jarrett Jack. T.J. Ford has had an injury-riddled career, but having Jack as his backup provides great depth and a steady leader in case Ford misses a chunk of the year. The Pacers have the ability to run now, and with all of the great shooters on this team, could surprise many teams if they bond together. The team is still very young, though, and the offense will sputter on occasion, but the improvements are there.

Defense: The Pacers look to be a steady defensive squad. The loss of Jermaine OíNeal is a big hit in the post, but Rasho Nesterovic and Jeff Foster are solid man to man defenders, and can handle most of the bigger centers in the league. Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy Jr. are good perimeter defenders, and Granger is valuable in terms of help-defense, but ever since the departure of Ron Artest, the absence of a truly great defensive player has been evident in the handling of opposing wing players. Both T.J. Ford and Jarrett Jack are able to contain the quicker backcourt players, and will be a step up as opposed to last yearís defense. There isnít one great defender on this team, but the mass of overall good defenders will make the Pacers a sturdy squad.

Strengths: T.J. Ford brings leadership to the backcourt in Indiana which is something they have lacked for a long time. Ford will help in the overall development of Danny Granger, and will be a great teammate and playmaker for the rest of the team. The team has great young talent in Brandon Rush and of course, Danny Granger, who will play major roles in the rebuilding efoort of this team.

Weaknesses: Unless Danny Granger turns into a true superstar immediately this season, the Pacers are still lacking a ďgo to guy.Ē In the clutch, the big pays will be made by Granger, but the team is still missing a superstar that they can depend on every night. Jermaine OíNeal was that guy, but without him, they will need Granger to step up for the role.

Five Players to Watch:

Danny Granger - Danny Granger is the best player on the Indiana Pacers, but has yet to show if he is ready to lead the team into the future. He certainly has the abilities, but until he takes control of this team, he canít take that step into superstardom. The offensive and defensive tools that Danny Granger possesses are amazing, and his all-around game is perfect for the Pacers. Once he can step into the role of being this teamís leader, the Pacers will be able to make the leap back into the Playoffs, perhaps as early as this season.

T.J. Ford - Jamaal Tinsley is still on the trading block, but his replacement T.J. Ford will be ready to bring some leadership to the backcourt in Indiana. If Ford can stay healthy, he may finally be able to untap his potential in becoming a star point guard. He has the speed to dominate on offense, can stay in front of even the quickest guards on defense, and isnít afraid to carry his team if he has to. Ford will be a great complement to both Granger and Mike Dunleavy, and the Pacers will be a very fun team to watch this season with Ford at the helm.

Mike Dunleavy Jr. - Dunleavy was one of the most improved players in the league last season, and finally gave a glimpse of what the Warriors thought he would become when he was drafted back in 2002. Dunleavy possesses an all-around offensive game, and is a reliable shooter from the perimeter, but still lacks a killer instinct that would make him a star on this team. With his above-average playmaking abilities and his shooting touch, Dunleavy is a perfect target for Ford and a perfect teammate for Granger. Dunleavy is one of the best role-players in the game, but he still has the potential to get better. Whether or not he can take his game to another level is solely up to him, though.

Brandon Rush - The brother of Kareem Rush, Brandon will be looking to make an impact on this team from day one of the 08-09 NBA season. Rush gives the Pacers yet another adept outside shooter, but he can also score on the inside, and has a deadly mid-range jumper. Rush should get plenty of minutes for the Pacers, but he will need a lot of time to adjust to the pace of an NBA game. Once Rush gets used to the nuances of the game, he should be a great asset off the bench, and perhaps even a starter down the road.

Jarrett Jack - Jack will be battling with T.J. Ford for minutes at the point guard spot, but ultimately will be the spark off the bench for this team. He has a scorerís mentality, can play solid defense on the perimeter, and has a decent jumper from mid-range. His biggest value, though, is that he has starter capabilities, and if T.J. Ford goes down, the Pacers know that they can rely on Jack to pick up where Ford left off, and provide backcourt leadership to the team. Jack may not get the attention or notoriety, but he will be one of the most valuable pieces to the Pacers in both their short term, and long term successes.

Playoff Hopes: The chance is there, but making it back to the postseason is very unlikely for the Indiana Pacers at this stage. They will be contenders next season, and depending on how fast Danny Granger continues to develop, could be in the hunt this year. They are still too young, though, and donít have as many valuable pieces as most of the Eastern Conference teams do. If this team can gel together and get some continuity on the floor, they could be a threat for a Playoff position, but that will more than likely be a few years down the road.

Prediction: 5th Place, Central Division

Written by
His Dudeness