The Pacers have already had a busy offseason: adding two starters in Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young before the NBA draft. These two likely starters will most likely be the biggest moves Larry Bird and the Pacers make in preparation for the 2016-2017 season. They have two remaining spots on their roster available if they plan to sign second-round pick, Georges Niang. ICYMI: Here’s an in-depth analysis on what the Pacers are likely to do with their own free agents. I recommend reading that post before this one.
Depending on whether the Pacers decide to keep any of their free agents, they are generally seen to have anywhere from $12 – 20 million in cap space (depending on whether or not they want to keep Ian Mahinmi) to spend on the last two roster spots and a potential renegotiation of the newly acquired Teague’s contract. While the Pacers could look to trade one of their ball dominant guards (Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey), nothing has indicated to this point that is part of Bird’s plan. During his post-draft press conference, Kevin Pritchard, the Pacers General Manager and second in command to Bird, mentioned how the Pacers see other teams having success by always having four or five playmakers on the court at all times. Bird likely sees both Ellis and Stuckey as key pieces that the Pacers will need for their plan to fill the court with playmakers. I could go on and on about the potential pitfalls here for the Pacers, so that’s another post for another day. For the sake of this article, I will assume the Pacers are not planning on trading away any of their current pieces. (I’m sure since I wrote this that Bird will quickly trade away someone before free agency even starts.)
Since the Pacers have only a max of about $20 million in cap room, we can immediately cross off the cream of the crop in this free agency class: Kevin Durant, Nicolas Batum, Al Horford, and Mike Conley. The Pacers likely never had much of a chance at any of these guys anyway despite awesome hashtags like #KevINDYrant. They will not be discussed here as viable options. One other thing that should be known about the Pacers: they do not go after restricted free agents (RFA) per the owner’s policy. So, going after young guys just coming off of their rookie contracts like Allen Crabbe, Evan Fournier, Troy Daniels, etc. will not be an option for Bird and the Pacers due to this organizational limitation.
With the Pacers starting lineup likely set barring another trade,– Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner– the Pacers will be looking for players that can fill specific bench roles with their last two spots on the roster. Here are some options (both good and bad):
3 and D players:
- Jared Dudley: Dudley would be my top potential pickup for the Pacers on this list. Last year, Dudley shot a sizzling 42% from 3-point range with the Washington Wizards while getting set up by John Wall. He has the versatility (Pacers buzz word) to play on the wing or as a small ball four and can guard three positions. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be successful on offense like so many of the Pacers players on the roster currently. He could easily slide into a nice role off the bench for the Pacers and give them some much needed shooting. He’ll be much pricier than his last contract (5 years, $21 million) at anywhere from $8 – $14 million per season, but if it’s on the lower end of the spectrum the Pacers could sign him and still re-sign Mahinmi to fill out the roster. (Update: Dudley signs with the Suns.)
- Courtney Lee: Lee wouldn’t fit into the current roster makeup nearly as well as Dudley, since Lee is limited in the positions that he can play and guard on the other end. That being said, Lee would be a tremendous asset as a 3 and D wing. Lee shot 38% from range last season and has averaged the same percentage in his career. Lee is another player that doesn’t require a lot of touches, which is something the Pacers need to look for to pair with ball dominant players like Teague, Ellis, and Stuckey. Lee touched the ball less than 85% of the league last year and has a usage percentage in the low teens. Even with his low usage, Lee has still averaged double digits in points per 36 minutes every season of his career. He makes the most of his few touches. (Update: Lee signed with the New York Knicks.)
Frequently Talked About:
- Eric Gordon: It’s been reported by Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders that the Pacers are one of the teams interested in adding the Indiana native and former Hoosier. The issue with Gordon has never been skill, but whether or not he can stay on the court. After playing in 78 games his rookie season, he’s never played more than 64 games in a single season. It’s hard to invest $10 million plus in a player that in a good year still misses one of every four games. While Gordon’s has a career average of 16.6 points per game, his field goal percentage has been in the low 40% range the past few seasons and he’s another ball dominant player that the Pacers have plenty of. Lots of reasons to look elsewhere, even though any deal is likely relatively cheap (compared to his last contract at least) and for a short term with his injury history.
- Lance Stephenson: The Grizzlies declined Stephenson’s $9.4 team option, making the former Pacer a free agent. Born Ready has been well traveled since leaving the Pacers, playing for the Hornets, Clippers, and Grizzlies in the last two seasons. Stephenson seemed to find some footing with Memphis and averaged 14.2 points per game in his time with the team, and they are reportedly interested in bringing him back even though they declined his option. So, should the Pacers go after a Lance reunion? Only Paul George and perhaps Ian Mahinmi remain from those very good Pacers teams, even his former coach Vogel is gone. Nearly all of that structure that helped Stephenson develop is now gone. It seems unlikely the Pacers will be in a rush to get him back. Stephenson is one of the most entertaining players in the league, and while his roster fit is questionable at best (another ball dominant guard, though at least he can defend well), I can’t deny that I would enjoy watching him play every night. Stephenson might be a cheap option, but a return seems unlikely. Though to be fair his biggest supporter, Larry Bird, is still in Indy.
Backup Point Guards:
- Ish Smith: Consider these next two options for the Pacers if they decide not to keep Ty Lawson around and also don’t think Joe Young is ready for nightly minutes as the backup point guard (McMillan has said they’ll be watching Young’s performance in the Summer League and the rookie/free agent camp to see how he can lead a team). Ish Smith could be an option for the Pacers if they’re looking for speed as Smith is one of the fastest players in the NBA. Smith averaged 14.7 points and 7 assists during his time with the lowly Sixers last season. It was his first year with consistent minutes as Smith has played on nine teams in only six seasons and has never been with a single team for a complete season. Because Smith is a smaller guard and not a good defender, he’s had trouble finding his place in the league. He likely won’t be an expensive contract and could jump at a low multi-year deal simply because he’s never had stability in his playing career. (Update: Signed 3 year/$18 million deal with the Detroit Pistons)
- Jeremy Lin: Lin likely will cost more than Smith. He has been a double digit scorer since his breakout year with the Knicks, averaging at least 11 points per game in each of the last five seasons. His assist numbers were way down last year from over 6 assists to only 4 per game this season, but he also decreased his turnover rate as well. Both Lin and Smith had very similar numbers last year, but I’d give Smith the slight edge simply due to price. Smith played for bad teams, but his on/off rating is +1.8 so his teams were better with him on the court. Lin’s Hornets were a good team that made the playoffs and they were only slightly worse with him on the court (-0.9). (Update: Lin is nearing an agreement with the Brooklyn Nets.)
Joe Young’s doing his best to convince the coaches that he’s the guy for the backup job.
Replacements for Mahinmi:
- Zaza Pachulia: The next two options are potential backup centers if the Pacers decide not to spend the money on Mahinmi or if Mahinmi looks for a bigger role elsewhere. There are very few center options in this year’s free agency class that could potentially be looking for a backup role. Both of the options listed here were starters for most of last season and their careers to this point. Pachulia had a surprisingly good season for the Mavs and somehow was nearly voted into the All Star game. He’s not a modern run up and down the floor big by any stretch of the imagination, but he averaged a solid 8 points and 9 rebounds last year. He’d be a veteran presence and give the team a quality backup center.
- Timofey Mozgov: Mozgov went from every game starter for the NBA Champion Cavs to riding the bench for the playoffs. Another player that can get run off the court in these days of hyper athletic small ball lineups. He’s an option that perhaps because of his declined role, the Pacers may be able to get for cheaper than a potential deal to Mahinmi. Truthfully, either of these options would be worse fits than Mahinmi for the Pacers desired up-tempo offense, and McMillan has already stated that they currently only have one true center on the roster in Turner. The Pacers might be looking around at their options in free agency and on their roster and decide to go ahead and go over the cap to re-sign the Frenchman. (UPDATE: Mozgov signed with Lakers for 4 years/$64 million)
Other available bigs (though none are centers): Trevor Booker, Darrell Arthur, Thomas Robinson.
- Mirza Teletovic: Teletovic had a great bounce back season with the Phoenix Suns after struggling with his shot the season before with the Brooklyn Nets. In easily his best season in the NBA, Teletovic averaged 20.6 points per 36 minutes, had a career high PER of 16.2, and hit 39% of his 3-point attempts. Though the Suns were a bad team either way, they were 2.6 points per 100 possessions better with Teletovic on the court. He does not add much on the defensive end or in rebounding and would need to be paired with a rebounding center or wings that like to crash the glass. (Update: Teletovic will reunite with Jason Kidd in Milwaukee.)
- Andrew Nicholson: The Magic made the surprising move of not extending a qualifying offer to Nicholson making him an unrestricted free agent. He’s shown a decent ability to hit outside shots (36% from deep last year) and made strides in many areas in his fourth season in the league: improving from the year prior in field goal percentage, rebound rate, free throw percentage, and PER. Still a young player, Nicholson might be worth a look at as a backup big that can stretch the floor. (Update: Nicholson signed with the Wizards.)
Others: Marvin Williams, Ryan Anderson, Derrick Williams, Anthony Tolliver, James Johnson, Jeff Green
I’d absolutely love to see the Pacers get Chandler Parsons or Kent Bazemore, but those players are likely to get much more than Indiana will be able to offer them and they’ll find larger roles elsewhere.