The Indiana Pacers have plenty of holes in the roster to fill during free agency. Perhaps none more glaring than at the point guard position.
There are many directions the Pacers could go and options that Kevin Pritchard and the front office can pursue. Indiana could try and make a play for a big name All Star like Kemba Walker or Kyrie Irving. They could look to the restricted free agent market to get young up-and-coming players like D’Angelo Russell, Malcolm Brogdon or Terry Rozier. Veteran point guards like George Hill, Patrick Beverley, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo could all be available. Under-the-radar restricted free agents like Tomas Satoransky and Tyus Jones could both be targets if the Pacers thought they could do more with a larger role. And if none of these options work out or the remaining just aren’t appealing, Indiana could try to bring back one of their own in Darren Collison or Cory Joseph.
Currently, only Aaron Holiday and Edmond Sumner could play the lead guard position on the team. While Holiday is almost definitely going to get a larger role next season, it probably won’t be as a full-time starter in his second season. Sumner has shown flashes of potential and stood out in the G-League last year, but he’s more likely to be the emergency option at both guard spots if the Pacers pick up his team option than someone that gets consistent minutes every night. With Victor Oladipo out until December or January, finding someone that can carry the load of ball-handling duties would seem paramount.
The Big Fish: Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving
These are by far the most unlikely targets for the Pacers to end up actually signing among the many covered here, but Pritchard talked about wanting his front office to “think big” and there are no bigger options to pursue in free agency than Kemba Walker or Kyrie Irving.
“We’re willing to think big,” said Pritchard in the season-ending press conference. “… 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.”
(Sidenote: After Pritchard drafted center Goga Bitadze, maybe he just meant big in the literal sense.)
Irving is a 0% chance of coming here. All the chatter has been that he’s focused on the Brooklyn Nets and possibly teaming up with Kevin Durant. If he does join the Nets, that could help the Pacers chances at another free agent in D’Angelo Russell if the Nets decide to withdraw his qualifying offer and make him an unrestricted free agent.
Irving is an offensive superstar but he also torpedoed the Celtics locker room and chemistry this season with poor leadership. While he’s an unbelievable, elite talent, the Pacers may be hesitant to go after someone unlikely to be interested in joining them anyway when it could disrupt the culture of positivity that has blossomed behind Oladipo the last two years.
Walker, on the other hand, has indicated that he’d like to remain in Charlotte with the team that’s drafted him but now the negotations between him and the team have broken down. The Boston Celtics have emerged as the favorites to sign him and Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks are also mentioned as being interested. At this point, it’s a 0% chance for the Pacers too.
With the Hornets are currently in a cap quagmire of bad contracts, they are essentially stuck with what they have while trying to avoid paying the luxury tax for a fringe playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Walker qualified for a super-max contract that gives the Hornets the ability to offer over $80 million more than any other team could in free agency but it appears they aren’t willing to go that far to keep him.
The biggest problem with this route beyond neither player likely wanting to come to Indiana is that the Pacers could just barely create enough space to offer a max contract for either player after acquiring TJ Warren for essentially nothing but $10.8 million in cap space this season. Both Irving and Walker would command a 4-year, $140 million deal. Their deals would start at $32.7 million (30% of the salary cap) in the first season of their new contract. It would take the Pacers renouncing all of their free agents including Bojan Bogdanovic, who is said to be a top priority for the team, to get to $33.8 million under the cap. So after doing that, they’d have just enough space to offer the max contract.
The Pacers depth chart would look like this without any proven commodities on the second unit and in need of at least three more players to get the minimum of 14 for the roster. They’d have only the room exception and minimum contracts to fill those remaining spots:
PG: Kemba/Kyrie, Aaron Holiday
SG: Victor Oladipo, Edmond Sumner
SF: TJ Warren, Doug McDermott, Brian Bowen (2-way contract)
PF: Domantas Sabonis, TJ Leaf, Alize Johnson
C: Myles Turner, Goga Bitadze
But if the Pacers can get a star player via free agency, they probably shouldn’t worry too much about the second unit. Take the star and figure out the details later. But while Pacers could create enough space for a 30% of the cap max offer, it’s unlikely that they’ll be doing so as both Walker and Irving just aren’t going to be interested in joining Indiana, especially with Oladipo on the mend.
Click on the links to preview other potential (more likely) targets: