It was a peculiar scene inside Conseco Fieldhouse as cheers for the Pacers trade with San Antonio rang louder than their choice for the No. 15th draft pick. During Thursday night’s NBA Draft, Indiana hosted a party for over 7,000 fans at their home court location and selected Kawhi Leonard with the 15th overall pick early on. Sure, there were cheers based on the fact that a new pick was added to an already rebuilding roster for the Pacers, but not too many people knew who the San Diego State standout was.
“I hadn’t heard of him before but I trust the management of the Pacers. They did the right thing with Paul George last year and I’ve got faith in them,” Pacers fan Andrew Connor said.
Immediately after the pick rumors began to spread about a potential trade of Leonard to San Antonio in return for George Hill, an Indiana native who played shooting guard at IUPUI from 2004-2008. About 20 minutes later, the rumors were confirmed to fans by emcee Chris Denari and later by ESPN’s Ric Bucher. Everyone inside Conseco erupted over the announcement, warmly welcoming home Hill to Indianapolis.
“[He’s] great,” said Pacers season ticket holder Erik Herald. “It’ll do a lot for the fans too because he’s a local kid. He and [Darren] Collison will make a great duo, too.”
Pacers president Larry Bird has stated that the organization needs to obtain veteran players to keep in playoff contention each year. Hill has been in the league for three seasons after being drafted as the 26th pick overall by the Spurs in 2008.
Though joining a small backcourt consisting of Darren Collison, Lance Stephenson and A.J. Price, Hill plays an important role having averaged 11.6 points per game for the Spurs last season.
While Collison measures in at 6-foot and Hill at 6-foot-2, there’s no question that the Pacers backcourt will have difficulty measuring up against bigger teams which could lead to defensive struggles. If the Pacers kept Leonard, they would have had someone who weighed in at 227 pounds and was significantly taller at 6-foot-7.
Despite the work he has cut out for him, right now it’s about coming home to a warm Indiana welcome from fans who are excited to see the next level of Pacer basketball.
“It’s tough, but at the same time, things happen for a reason,” said Hill. “My hat is off to San Antonio for the opportunity I had here and I’m really looking forward to coming home to Indiana and helping the Pacers win games.”
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