KRAVITZ: Will the Pacers be happy with a younger version of Darren Collison? You bet they will

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Bob Kravitz

The Indiana Pacers aren't completely sure whether their first-round draft choice, UCLA's Aaron Holiday, will end up being a starting point guard or a backup point guard in the years to come, but Kevin Pritchard knows this for sure: "He's going to be an NBA player,'' the Pacers CEO of basketball operations said late Thursday night. "There are some guys you talk about and talk to; he's going to be an NBA player.''

Who will he be? After all, we want to compare every draftee with a current NBA player, just to get a rough idea what his game will look like at the next level.

"We look at Holiday and see a lot of similarities with Darren (Collison),'' Pritchard said. "We see speed, elite shooting and we were shocked when he was there. We looked at some move-up options but before the draft, we circled our core and said, outside of our core, let's try to move up, or let's use some of our cap space to maybe take in a contract to move up. There were a couple of possibilities, but they were too cost prohibitive.

"We stayed at 23, and we were thrilled he (Holiday) was there. He has a chance to be a starter down the line. He fits off Victor (Oladipo) well. He's a great catch-and-shoot guy. He shot 43 percent from three, but his specialty is catch-and-shoot and that number is even higher. And he's a bulldog defender, as tough as they get, and a great (family) pedigree (with two brothers, Jrue and Justin, who currently play in the NBA). The first thing we talk about with players is, is he tough? And he's tough.''

Who wouldn't be entranced with the idea of getting a younger Collison, who is coming off a career season? Rest assured, Collison and Cory Joseph, both great pros, will happily mentor their young teammate, even if that means grooming their eventual replacement.

"He'll go into the season behind Darren and Cory but we see him competing for minutes,'' Pritchard said. "That third point guard position, you get a chance to play. With both guys (Collison and Joseph) on one-year deals, we felt we needed a point guard in the pipeline to at least step into that backup role in the future. At No. 23, it's hard to project a starter because the truly elite players are gone, but he has some of the characteristics of a starter. He's tough, he's a little undersized (at 6'1") but he's willing to compete. What we've seen in this league is, if you're small and a little pesky, that can kind of offset some of that size issue. We see him as someone who can really get under people…He kind of gets under the ball and can turn guys in the backcourt and that's a real underrated skill…He does a good job of spinning (opposing point guards) and slowing them down.''

Pritchard said he had some move-up options – the Pacers had their eye on a particular player, but obviously he's not going to identify him – but they knew they'd have to take on an onerous salary in order to make the move. That was a deal-breaker.

"We said we've been so disciplined over the last year about not taking a bad contract,'' Pritchard said. "…Part of the equation in making the Paul George trade was being able to set up for 20 million in cap space. I'm not saying we'll necessarily sign a guy (in free agency). There might be uneven trades (where the Pacers, who are under the cap, can take on more salary than they give up), so a lot could happen. But we preserved that. We said, `Why be so disciplined until today and then lose our cap space immediately?'…Where we really get better is (starting) July 1.''

At pick No. 50 in the second round, the Pacers selected a project/junkyard dog defender and rebounder named Alize (pronounced Ah-lee-zay) Johnson from Missouri State. Don't look for him to play much, if at all, next season, in much the same way last year's second rounder, UCLA's Ike Anigbogu, had something of a redshirt year. But Pritchard likes what he's seen of Johnson.

"He's a bulldog,'' he said. "If you said `Go eat some glass to win the game,' he's a guy who would say `Do you want salt or pepper on that?' At that position, I wanted to give (coach) Nate (McMillan) a guy who he can say go guard a guy in February. Some guys are always around the ball. Ask him to do anything and he has an amazing ability to find rebounds out of his position. He has a big rebounding area and he's a junkyard defender. He probably won't play next year; his shooting, he's got some mechanical issues. But we want toughness. And this guy, both these guys, are tough.''

The big question is focused now on Thad Young, the team's power forward who established himself as one of the better front-court defenders in the league. He has until June 29 to decide whether to accept or decline his player option, whether to stay in Indy at $13.7 million next season or explore free-agent options elsewhere in the league. It's also possible he could decline his option and then re-sign with the Pacers with a longer-term extension.

"We'd like to have him back,'' Pritchard said. "We'd like to keep the core.''

That core won 48 games last year and went 0-7 when Oladipo didn't play. Then they took the NBA finalist Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games, and may very well have taken that series except for a few hiccups, not to mention the missed goaltend when LeBron James blocked Oladipo's shot off the backboard.

During Holiday's introductory press conference Friday, he was quiet and humble, talked about improving all the facets of his game and fitting in to the Pacers' culture. He also talked about playing against his two older brothers and his sister, who was a college basketball player of some renown. Sounds like Reggie and Cheryl Miller, doesn't it?

"He's confident, but my gut feel is that he knows he doesn't know everything yet,'' Pritchard said. "You see some of these young guys, they get interviewed and say `I'm ready to be an All-Star.' You heard his interview (when he talked about working hard and making an impact). He wants to be great and he's willing to do whatever he needs to do to be great. With a lot of rookies, they said, 'I'll do this and I'll do that,' and then they get to their first practice and say, 'Whoa.' He'll have to make an adjustment, but he has a chance to play this year.''

So the draft is done, and now things get interesting with so many decisions still to be made. The Pacers want to keep their core, but they can't stand stock-still. But Holiday (and Johnson, to a lesser extent) are a start. Come July 1, things are going to get very lively and interesting for the Pacers' front office.

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