After losing Victor Oladipo to a ruptured right quad midseason, the Indiana Pacers held things together better than anyone could have possibly expected, holding onto a top seed in the Eastern Conference for most of the season before eventually ending up at No. 5 and losing to the Boston Celtics in a competitive first round sweep. With Oladipo expected to make a full recovery and Myles Turner signed long-term, this is a pivotal offseason for the Pacers to add players around their talented duo.
Indiana enters the offseason with as much flexibility as any team in the NBA. They have Oladipo, Turner and Doug McDermott signed for at least the next two seasons. Promising youngsters Aaron Holiday and T.J. Leaf are still on their rookie scale contracts, and Domantas Sabonis is entering the final year of his rookie scale deal and extension eligible. That’s multiple rotation players under team control for at least the next couple of years. Most importantly, none of them are on a bad contract either.
It’s that lack of bad contracts, combined with the Pacers having nine free agents, that gives them so much flexibility this summer. With relative ease, Indiana should be able to create over $40 million in cap space. Of the team’s free agents, it’s a mixed bag on who they are likely to bring back versus who they are likely to let walk.
Let’s begin with the starting forwards in Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young. Bogdanovic is coming off the best year of his career and just turned 30 years old. His game isn’t overly reliant on athleticism so he should age well. The challenge for Indiana is that Bogdanovic has played under a team-friendly contract the last two seasons and is likely looking to cash in on his career-year. Given that the Pacers have Early Bird rights for Bogdanovic, they are able to give him enough of a bump in pay without having to use cap space to do so. He’s proven to be a good fit alongside Oladipo, and is capable of carrying the offense at points by himself. Expect Indiana to be interested in retaining Bogdanovic, but it will be on their terms. If it’s going to be more than a two-year deal for more than a modest bump of his $10.5 million salary for 2019, the Pacers will likely walk away in favor of opening up cap space.
Young is in a similar position. He has a cap hold of $20.6 million, and any new contract for Young is going to have to come in well under that number. He’ll be 31 at the start of next season and his game is reliant on his athleticism. That makes committing for more than a couple of years at a salary in the low-teens a risk. With Sabonis primed for a bigger role, this is something that Kevin Pritchard will have to evaluate as it pertains to re-signing Young.
One of the team’s free agents is a very cut and dry case. Tyreke Evans was banned from the NBA for at least the next two seasons. The Pacers are expected to cut ties as soon as the league year turns over, as Evans is no longer a part of the franchise’s future.
The rest of free agent group has a cloudier future with the Pacers. Darren Collison and Cory Joseph have held down the point guard position for the last two years. Both are best described as solid, unspectacular players. At this point in their careers, Collison and Joseph should be backups/spot starters. One of the two could be back, but with Holiday emerging as a point guard option, it’s unlikely both players will return.
The same can be said for Kyle O’Quinn, who is the lone free agent center for the Pacers this summer. O’Quinn is firmly behind Turner, Sabonis and Leaf in the big man pecking order and will likely look for a team with a clearer path to playing time this summer.
Indiana’s other veteran free agent is Wesley Matthews. After being bought out by the New York Knicks, Matthews wanted a spot where he was assured playing time and signed with the Pacers to fill Oladipo’s spot. Matthews seems like a 50-50 option at best to return. He could catch on as a 3&D wing with a title contender as it seems like he’s looking at veteran minimum contracts at this point in his career.
That leaves some potential holes in the Indiana rotation. The Pacers need to find a point guard that fits in well with Oladipo and Turner, while the team grooms Holiday. Collison could be that guy, but the team would love to upgrade with a more dynamic player. The good news is that this is a deep class of free agent point guards.
The Pacers aren’t generally a prime free agent destination, but can offer playing time and a lot of money. Those two things generally trump geography. So, while Indiana may not be in the mix for the top options, they should be involved in the next tier down. Players like Patrick Beverley or Ricky Rubio would fit in nicely. If the team wanted to chase a restricted free agent, they could hand a large offer sheet to Malcolm Brogdon or even D’Angelo Russell and force a conference rival to match. The Pacers could also use their cap space to trade for a player like Goran Dragic, who would give them some scoring punch at the position.
Beyond finding a point guard, Indiana will look at retaining Bogdanovic while also adding some additional wing scoring. Again, they’re probably out of the mix for the superstars, but the next tier down has a lot of options. Rodney Hood, Terrence Ross, Marcus Morris, or Jabari Parker could all be good options to help add some offense on the perimeter.
The Pacers have kept a clean cap sheet by identifying undervalued free agents and signing them to short-term contracts. And they’ve begun the process of retaining their own drafted and developed talent by extending Turner. Now it’s about adding the pieces around Oladipo and Turner to enable the team to take the next step. The ability to do so is there this summer and it’s up to the Pacers to take advantage.
Guaranteed Contracts (6): Aaron Holiday, T.J. Leaf, Doug McDermott, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts (1): Alize Johnson
Potential Free Agents (9): Bojan Bogdanovic (UFA), Darren Collison (UFA), Tyreke Evans (UFA), Cory Joseph (UFA), Wesley Matthews (UFA), Kyle O’Quinn (UFA), Davon Reed (RFA – Two-Way), Edmond Sumner (RFA – Team Option), Thaddeus Young (UFA)
“Dead” Money on Cap ($2,245,400): Monta Ellis
First Round Draft Pick(s): #18
Maximum Cap Space: $45.7 million
Projected Cap Space: $44 million