Indiana Pacers – Off Season Report

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2015/2016 Record: 45-37 (1st round exit)

Ins:

Thaddeus Young TR – Nets
Al Jefferson FA – 3yrs / $30mil (Partial Guaranteed 3rd)
Jeff Teague TR – Hawks
Aaron Brooks FA – 1yr / $2.7mil
Jeremy Evans TR – Mavericks
Georges Niang DR – Pick #50
Kevin Seraphin FA – 2 yrs/ $3.6mil (Team option 2nd)

Outs:

Ty Lawson FA – Kings
Solomon Hill FA – Pelicans
Jordan Hill FA – Timberwolves
George Hill TR – Jazz
Ian Mahinmi FA – Wizards

Off Season Analysis:

Is there a more unlucky coach in NBA basketball right now than Frank Vogel? Perhaps you could argue yes, seeing as though Vogel has landed on his feet in Orlando and there are plenty of other good coaches out of the NBA.

But think about it for a second. Three seasons in a row his team was knocked out of the playoffs by the Big 3 in Miami. He coached a team missing its best player (watch if you dare!) to 38 wins in 14/15 and then with Paul George finally back in the fold, the Pacers managed a 45 win season and competitive 7 game series loss to the eventual Eastern runners-up. Surely you have the right to feel a little aggrieved after changing the way your team plays on the fly and dealing with a total shift away from your regular core. Not to mention your franchise guy ready to explode in Year 2 after injury and returning with a well-earned gold medal around his neck.

But who’s going to question Larry Legend? ……………..Me.

The Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations, Larry Bird, decided not to renew his coach’s contract and Indiana was without a head coach for the first time in 6 years. The justification was as bizarre as Vogel was unlucky, explaining that he believes coaches should move on after 3 years. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact Bird himself promised and delivered on a coaching tenure of just 3 years before walking away.

Bird decided to promote from within and hire ex-Blazers coach and 3 year associate head coach to Vogel, Nate McMillan. And of course for a period of, yes you guessed it, 3 years. With a solid, even if not overly impressive, 51% winning coaching record McMillan teams typically play slow yet effective on offence & pretty awful on defence. Of course any coach will cater the system to the personnel but McMillan now has a pretty decent sample size, which 8points9seconds.com illustrated in a recent article with pretty conclusive numbers. He certainly doesn’t seem the right guy for a team that wants to improve pace and scoring while remaining dominant on the defensive end.

nate-mcmillanAfter hiring the new Head Coach, the Pacers did not slow down on their quest to change. Before taking Georges Niang with its only pick in the draft on June 26, Indiana had already traded for Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young & Jeremy Evans. A series of moves that illustrated the shift this team was beginning to take;

  • 3 Team Trade: George Hill to the Jazz, Jeff Teague to the Pacers, Pick 12 to the Hawks.
  • Draft Night Trade: Thaddeus Young to the Pacers for Pick 20 to the Nets.
  • Mavericks salary dump: Jeremy Evans to the Pacers to free up cap space.

With so many rotation players already added prior to free agency, the Pacers’ own impending free agents had little hope of returning. Larry decided he was over the Hills. Following George’s departure was Jordan, who joined the Timberwolves and Solomon, who took his talents to New Orleans. The latter of which deserves its own 30 for 30 on how not to GM. After declining Solomon’s $2.3 million player option for 16/17, Bird quipped at a press conference that he would just have to pay him more if they wanted to keep him. Except he was wrong. Since declining the option meant the Pacers could not pay him more than $2.3 million next season under the current CBA rules. Ironically the man who has a free agency term named after him, did not understand free agency rules. The Pacers also let backup centre Ian Mahinmi walk to the Wizards and gave up on the failed Ty Lawson experiment.

Further additions were made in free agency, with Al Jefferson handed a three year deal (the 3rd is non-guaranteed) and Aaron Brooks just the one. Yet all I can ask is why? Perhaps Jefferson can provide a change of pace suitable to McMillan’s system, as well as a low post get out of jail threat. But I am perplexed by the signing when you read Bird’s continual want for pace and space. He isn’t going to give Coach McMillan a worthy defensive presence to rely on either. It’s also hard to see Brooks getting off the pine on a team with Teague, Ellis, George, Stuckey and promising young PG, Joe Young. Which begs the question; could he have not found a better fit on a one year deal?

Speaking of fit, there just doesn’t seem to be enough touches to go around on this team. We’ve established that McMillan can create an offence and he is going to have a lot of weapons to use on that end. But where George Hill worked as a non ball dominant guard paired with Ellis and George, Teague does not seem to afford the same balance. Ellis seems the odd man out. If the team just traded for their new PG, he is going to be afforded time to adjust and this could spell danger for Monta. His ball handling, driving and finishing ability make him tantalising as a 6th man on this team. Unfortunately there is far more chance of him being moved mid season than that occurring, as both team and player grow frustrated. Then you have the trades for Young & Evans to restock on big men. Young will most likely begin the season as the starting PF and could be rejuvenated after leaving Brooklyn. However his lack of defence and rebounding is an issue, placing a heavy load on Turner in the paint.

Now let’s talk about Paul George and Indiana’s last potential move of the off season. Just as OKC (Westbrook) and Houston (Harden) have done this off season, Indiana can renegotiate and extend George to lock him in as a Pacer longer term. The three year anniversary of signing his current deal is September 25. This is when he will be eligible for a re-structure and Indiana will certainly look at it. However, there are a number of factors at play and George may have other ideas.

With 6 years’ service, PG13’s max contract sits around the $22.1 million mark for next season. However, next summer he will move into the 7-9 years’ service range and command the higher 30% max salary. With a higher cap, the current estimate for that contract is $28.8million. With his current deal sitting at $18.3 million for next year and $19.5 million the following, George can renegotiate a higher current contract now or even next summer. The Pacers could use a portion of their $6 million remaining cap space (they already have the 15 max players) and give George a raise starting now, all in exchange for wiping his Player Option in 18/19 and adding another year on top of that. However, George could wait until the following year where he could make an extra $7mil over the same 3 year span. He could also choose to not extend at all in favour of future flexibility and the lure of free agency. The potential downfall in waiting is; health, a lock-out and/or Indiana still having the space available to offer the extension.

My guess is he extends now, takes a pay rise and moves the player option back one year to 19/20. That would make him contracted through the 19/20 season and give the small market team a bona fide star to build around. It would give PG13 $40 million extra guaranteed money but also the chance to opt out and sign one last big contract before he turns 30. Watch this space.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 9.35.19 am

Looking long term, I can’t help but wonder what this team is built for. Recently acquired starters Teague and Young are potential free agents this year and next respectively. Not to mention Paul George’s could opt out after the 17/18 season, if Bird cannot get him to agree to an extension. I can’t help but feel that if Bird was hell bent on a coaching change then now would be the time to rebuild altogether rather than just shift things around a little on the way to potential mediocrity.

The Pacers hit gold with Myles Turner last season (you can expect a gushing piece on him soon) and my feeling is they have missed a real opportunity this off season. In two years’ time when the majority of Teague, Jefferson, Young & Ellis are only visitors to Indiana, we will be left wondering what a young core of Turner, George and a fistful of first round picks could have done.

TBC: Kevin Seraphin literally signed with the Pacers as I finished this report. I like him as a player but have not spoken about his potential impact. It does take the Pacers to 16 guaranteed players though, so expect someone to be cut or traded.

Grade: C+

2016/17 Prediction: 47-35

League Pass Meter: 6/10

How do I give the Pacers a better record after such a pessimistic off-season report? The answer is simple; Paul George. Year 2 after the leg break and on the back of a successful Olympics campaign, PG13 is my pick to take his Team USA experience and turn it into a spike in his NBA form. The entire 6 points on the league pass meter are down to him, as he is the show to watch. Well maybe 5, Myles Turner is a seriously fun watch too.

Depth Chart:

PG: Teague Brooks Young
SG: Ellis Stuckey Robinson III
SF: George Miles Niang
PF: Young Allen Evans Christmas
C: Turner Jefferson  Seraphin

Salary Cap Situation:

2016/17 salaries: $88,041,623 (under the cap team)
2017/18 salaries: $55,652,127

Max room: $46.3mil
Min room: $24mil

Future Assets:

Incoming:
No pick incoming

Outgoing:
2019 2nd (Nets)

2016/17 Questions:

Will letting Frank Vogel go backfire on the franchise?

Can Paul George take another leap on last season’s comeback?

Will Jeff Teague & Monta Ellis work or is one on the way out early?

Myles Turner: second year blues or second year boom?

Will Young & Jefferson earn their keep (salary)?

 

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