The Pacers have already made some major changes to their roster in the early stages of the off-season: trading George Hill for Jeff Teague in a 3-team deal and trading their 1st-round pick for Thaddeus Young. If the Pacers sign 2nd-round pick Georges Niang, that’ll put the Pacers roster at 13 players under contract for next season with only two open roster spots left. The Pacers have four free agents from last year’s team: Ian Mahinmi, Solomon Hill, Jordan Hill, and Ty Lawson. Let’s take a look at each player and the likelihood that the Pacers will retain their services for the 2016-17 season.
For context, the Pacers cap situation is having anywhere from $12-20 million in cap room depending on if they decide to keep any of these players cap holds on the books. The Pacers are also reportedly interested in renegotiating with newly acquired Jeff Teague, but they would have to use existing cap space to rework his deal this offseason, which currently has only 1 year and $8 million remaining.
Odds of returning: 35%
The Pacers starting center last year was one of the season’s most surprising stories. Mahinmi improved his game on the offensive end in almost every way, going from a player you hope never touches the ball on offense to a guy that led his team in scoring in a playoff win. He’s due for a big raise (estimates range from $10 – $18 million per season) from someone with the salary cap rising and after only making $4 million last season, but it doesn’t seem too likely that it’ll be with the Pacers.
In Larry Bird and new head coach Nate McMillan’s press conferences after the season, both said that they see Myles Turner’s best position as a center and when asked about both Mahinmi and Turner, only talked about Turner. It doesn’t seem like retaining Mahinmi is high on the team’s priorities. With the addition of Thaddeus Young, this makes Mahinmi even more expendable. The Pacers will be ready to give Turner heavy starter minutes next year, which would move Mahinmi back into a backup role. No one could blame Mahinmi if he wanted to try and find a starting role somewhere in the NBA after he performed very well in his first year as a starter. And for the Pacers, do they really want to pay something like $15 million a year for a backup center? That’s not as ridiculous as it would have been a few years ago, but that’s still a lot of money to invest in a backup.
Since the Pacers have Mahinmi’s Bird Rights, this large contract wouldn’t impact the cap space the team has past Mahinmi’s $7.6 million cap hold. The Pacers would still have around $12 million to sign a role player for the bench and then could go over the cap to sign the hypothetical new contract with Mahinmi. So, the Pacers have to decide between having $20 million in cap room or keeping Mahinmi with $12 million in cap room. The potential backups at center available in free agency is weak and if the Pacers don’t like anyone in that group or feel comfortable with Lavoy Allen or Rakeem Christmas as their backup center, they may be more inclined to spend the money to keep Mahinmi.
Odds of returning: 3%
The Pacers actually still had one year left remaining on his rookie scale deal, but Bird declined the team option after Hill was abysmal in the summer league and mediocre at best during his first two seasons with the Pacers. Then after the All-Star break, Hill started being a major X-factor for Indiana as a small ball power forward, hitting shots for the first time in his career (hit 50% of his field goals after the All-Star break, 39% of his field goals prior to the break and the prior season), and being generally awesome on the defensive end while he was on the court, especially during the playoffs (I did a rundown of Solo’s up and down year here). The problem is because the Pacers declined that team option they can only offer Hill a contract that by rule starts at the $2.3 million that they declined at the beginning of the season. Solo will likely garner offers anywhere in the $8 – $15 million range as a young wing that showed promise in the last half of the season. Unless Hill takes a major, major discount to remain with the Pacers (and that seems unlikely after Bird claimed declining the option was the best thing they could have done for Hill), he’ll be making Solobling (an iPacers parody song below) with a new team. That’s too bad for Indiana, because he could have been a very cheap contract and valuable small-ball option off the bench.
Update: The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that Solo is asking for $9 million to $13 million per year in his new contract, and that the Jazz and multiple teams are willing to meet his demands. 3% chance of Hill returning to the Pacers may have been even too high.
Odds of Returning: 5%
The Pacers had all the NBA players with a last name of Hill on their roster last season, and after trading George Hill and likely being unable to pay Solomon Hill enough money in free agency, that could leave only Jordan Hill left if the Pacers are interested in keeping the Arizona product around. But it looks more likely that Indiana would rather be like Kansas: no Hills. While Hill had his positive moments for the Pacers last season including a couple of 20/10 games, he ended up out of the playing rotation completely towards the end of the year and rarely got off the bench at all during the series against the Toronto Raptors. While Hill wasn’t informed of why he ended up out of the rotation by former head coach Frank Vogel, it was probably due to subpar defense with Vogel preferring Lavoy Allen as a defender in addition to the need to get Solomon Hill on the floor more. It’s seems unlikely that there will be a mutual interest for Hill and the Pacers to continue this relationship.
Odds of Returning: 50%
Lawson joined the team after being bought out of his contract with the Houston Rockets. While the Lawson experiment wasn’t a supreme success, he was a much better fit with the Pacers than the Rockets and his overall numbers were better with Indiana. Lawson struggled along with most of the bench during the first-round series.
Oddly enough, Lawson’s just okay play with the Pacers probably makes him more likely to return to Indiana than if he returned to the form of his best days with the Denver Nuggets. If he had returned to that player, the Pacers don’t have his Bird Rights and it would have been much tougher to find a way to keep him. Since Lawson is still looking to show he can play like he has in the past, he’s likely to take more of a prove it deal this offseason that’ll be cheap and for a short term. Bird mentioned in his press conference that he liked how Lawson allowed the Pacers to play fast while he was in there, and the Pacers additions of Teague and Young clearly show Bird’s commitment to playing faster this season. If Bird wants to give Lawson a cheap, 1-year deal to have a fast backup point guard, it won’t be too surprising. This could add to the Pacers potential issue of having too many ball dominant guards (Teague, Monta Ellis, and Rodney Stuckey), but Lawson would be able to continue to push the pace when he came in the game for Teague.
If the Pacers do choose to re-sign both Mahinmi and Lawson, they’ll have to let someone else on the roster go or choose not to sign the draft pick, Niang, if they want to go after anyone in this year’s free agency class. There are a few options to open up a roster spot in this scenario: if the Pacers see having so many ball dominant guards as a potential issue, the Pacers could try and look for takers in a trade for either Ellis or Stuckey, or Shayne Whittington could be the odd man out with his unguaranteed contract. If they don’t find anyone to add during free agency, they could use any extra cap space to renegotiate and give Teague a raise this season and avoid him reaching free agency next year.