One thing appears certain for the Indiana Pacers as the off-season approaches: changes are coming. With so many veteran free agents on the roster and the team getting swept in the first round, they’ll be looking to make upgrades.
Based on the comments from Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard at Wednesday’s press conference, the writing may be on the wall for more than a few major contributors from last year’s team including Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Tyreke Evans, Wesley Matthews and perhaps even team captain Thad Young.
“We’re willing to think big,” said Pritchard. “… I’m super proud of this team, but we have to improve our talent. The Boston loss was as challenging a series as I’ve ever been a part of. I thought we’d win a few games. We all have to look in the mirror and look at our process. We’ve got to get better.”
To get better, Pritchard seems focused on upgrading the offensive end. Specifically, he’s looking for a creator.
“We need some creation,” Pritchard said of what the team needs to improve. “We need a guy that can break down a defense … When [Victor Oladipo] played, he was that creator. When we signed [Tyreke Evans], we wanted him to be that creator.”
He also mentioned needing more shooting, wanting to get faster and wanting to have an improved passing team. He pointed out that this creator doesn’t have to be a guard but these comments seemed focused on a few players that may be looking for new teams: Collison and Joseph, who both do a lot of positive things but creating for others is not a strength for either.
While the pair of guards do a tremendous job taking care of the basketball and have very high assist-to-turnover ratios that put them among the league leaders (3.67 for Collison and 4.01 for Joseph), they also rarely take any chances with the ball and only make the safe pass. They aren’t guys that break down the defense with ease by getting to the rim and forcing defenders to help.
Collison loves to take a big man in isolation after a switch but rarely attacks the basket in those scenarios, instead going for a pull-up, mid-range attempt and struggles to make quick post entry passes to bigs wanting to take advantage of a mismatch.
Joseph is one of the league’s best defensive guards but went through an entire month near the end of the season where he couldn’t make a jump shot. He’s likely best suited to be a backup and that’s probably Aaron Holiday’s job in 2019-20.
“I feel he should be a rotational player next season,” McMillan said of Holiday. “There’s certainly some areas that he’s going to need to grow, but I like what he brings to the floor. He’s a young kid that has a great deal of confidence in himself. I think he can help us. … He certainly should be in the rotation next year.”
McMillan praised the tempo and shooting of Holiday, two of the things that Pritchard wants to add to the team. McMillan did mention that he can play both guard positions, so still hypothetically possible there would be room for both of Joseph and Collison on the roster. However, Holiday’s rotation spot alone would seem to seal the fate for at least one of them.
While Pritchard talked about the importance of continuity to a team, it’s clear he doesn’t plan on simply bringing everyone back. Especially after that playoff series, he knows the team has to get more talent to get deeper into the postseason even with Oladipo.
“I tend to (focus) on how do we keep this core together and add to it,” Pritchard said. “Our goal will be to add to this team and keep it together. I think there are some special players.”
It seems safe to say that after a disappointing year with Evans, the Pacers won’t be re-signing him again to be that creator Pritchard covets either. With Evans coming off a 1-year deal and no Bird Rights, the Pacers would have to use cap space to re-sign him, making it even more unlikely that he’ll return. That also applies to Wesley Matthews, who may search elsewhere for a starting gig anyway based on his reasoning for joining Indiana after getting bought out by the Knicks.
One player that Pritchard did say was a creator on the roster already is Domantas Sabonis.
“I think he wants a bigger role, and I think we have to figure out how to get him a bigger role,” said Pritchard on Sabonis. “He is a major force offensively. He can be a player that has huge impact not just as a sixth man. Maybe as a starter but that’s yet to be seen.”
Could that bigger role come at the expense of Thad Young’s place on the team? Young was lauded by Pritchard for his leadership after Oladipo was injured but not much was said about his upcoming free agency or trying to bring him back.
When Pritchard talked about continuity, he mentioned the importance of having veterans that carry the team’s culture over year to year, era to era to the newcomers as something he learned from Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh. Young would seem to be an important piece in that regard.
Working against Young, however, are his age and his lack of shooting. Young is likely looking for one last long-term contract, but it’s unclear if Indiana wants to commit to him for a few more years. Like Joseph, he’s another player that’s phenomenal defensively but limited on offense where Pritchard sees the need to improve.
Caitlin Cooper of Indy Cornrows showed how Young’s lack of shooting ability can hinder the offense and in particular how much the Pacers can’t utilize the skills of Myles Turner because of it. Pritchard mentioned needing to get Turner more involved offensively next season and having a different frontcourt partner could help.
The Pacers also could be looking to see a lot more of Sabonis playing alongside Myles Turner as the former approaches the end of his rookie contract. It’s been a mixed bag in the first two seasons of the pairing but Pritchard seems confident in the duo.
“Good players figure it out,” said Pritchard on playing Sabonis and Turner together more often. “… I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into anything because of our flexibility. I want to build a roster that’s really good, but in my mind I see those guys playing a lot of minutes together.”
Young seems more likely to return than the pair of veteran point guards but signs may be pointing to him finding a new home this summer as well.
The one free agent that Pritchard openly discussed wanting back is Bojan Bogdanovic, who he also recognized as likely having lots of possible suitors in free agency.
“On July 1st, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a pretty good conversation with Bojan,” Pritchard said.
Bringing Bogdanovic back would be another potential option as the starting power forward besides Sabonis depending on what other moves are made by the team in the off-season. This could also be another reason that Young’s time in Indiana ends. Of all the team’s free agents, Bogdanovic seems the most likely to return.
Expect a lot of new faces in the blue and gold next season.