The Indiana Pacers will look very different than its last iteration when the new season starts after making some major moves on the first night of free agency. Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb are arriving and Bojan Bogdanovic and Thad Young are departing.
When Kevin Pritchard took over for Larry Bird as President of Basketball Operations, he immediately set out to have a lot of flexibility in the deals that he signed and the roster he constructed after completing the trade for Victor Oladipo. Darren Collison and Bogdanovic both got two-year deals with partial guarantees for the second season to give the Pacers plenty of options. Cory Joseph was acquired with just two years on his deal.
Even while signing short-term contracts, a fantastic culture was created behind their 3T mantra of toughness, togetherness and trust as well as the sheer positivity of Victor Oladipo permeating through the entire franchise. The chemistry of the group was the best they’ve had in recent memory.
They could have tried to cash in on the flexibility to an extent last off-season by letting Darren Collison, Bogdanovic go with their small partial guarantees but Pritchard remained patient waiting for the right opportunity and kept the overachieving team together one more season while still keeping the books relatively clean for the next off-season with short deals (Tyreke Evans and Kyle O’Quinn for one year, no new deal for Young who opted into his player option).
All of it led to this summer with Indiana having more cap space than they’ve likely ever had that could be used to sign free agents or make trades with teams looking for cap space. For Pritchard, this period could end up defining his tenure with the Paces as much as the Oladipo/Paul George swap for better or for worse. The big questions were what would he be able to do with the large amount of available money for a team that hasn’t had much success in attracting free agents over the course of its existence and whether that flexibility that he worked hard to maintain lead to anything at all.
It’s hard to imagine a better scenario coming to fruition than what transpired last night (at least one that’s realistic) in what was a whirlwind in the first 45 minutes of free agency.
The biggest move of the night (and arguably in Pacers free agent history) is Brogdon. He agreed to a deal with Indiana for 4 years, $85 million, and to avoid the possibility of the Bucks matching the offer on their restricted free agent, the Pacers made it a sign-and-trade sending a first-round pick and two future second-round picks to the Bucks according to ESPN.
Brogdon, who turns 27 in December, is the ideal fit next to Oladipo once he’s back to 100%. He plays fantastic defense. His elite efficiency put him in rarefied air of the 50/40/90 club last season. He can play both guard positions on both ends of the court. It’ll be interesting to see how much his output and percentages are affected leaving the Milwaukee offensive system and heading to Indiana’s, but this was an absolute huge move for the Pacers. A little more in-depth look on Brogdon here in this piece on the point guard market.
Ricky Rubio was about a week-long nearly confirmed rumor that he was coming to Indiana or that at least that seemed to be the feeling around the league with Zach Lowe. Kevin O’Connor and Mark Stein all reporting on it. It came so far as one reporter saying that they were finalizing an agreement a little after 6 p.m. in a since deleted tweet until suddenly it didn’t happen. Plans changed as Rubio went to the Phoenix Suns for an overpriced $51 million over three seasons. The Pacers wisely avoided paying that kind of money over that amount of time for a stop-gap veteran and found a long-term solution to their point guard needs in Brogdon.
Bogdanovic meanwhile agreed to a mammoth deal of 4 years, $73 million to join the Utah Jazz, who look more and more fun with each move. He seemed to be a top priority for the Pacers this summer but it’s understandable why they decided to move on at that price and amount of years. The TJ Warren pickup for basically nothing from the Suns (who used the cap space gained by trading Warren to get Rubio) looks smarter and smarter as time passes as he served as perfect Bogey insurance in case this happened and could have played either forward position if they held onto him as well.
With Bogdanovic exiting, the Pacers found some additional scoring on the wing in Jeremy Lamb at a very reasonable 3 years, $31.5 million. Lamb averaged 15 points and 5 rebounds for the Hornets last season and is a good all-around player. He’ll be able to step in as a starter until Oladipo returns and then be a great scoring option off the bench when he returns.
Myles Turner’s very affordable extension before last season started should be taken into account as well. He very likely could have received a much larger offer this summer as a RFA with so much cap space around the league and him becoming a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Myles Turner makes $18 million per season. Julius Randle just got paid $21 million per year, Bobby Portis $15.5 million per season. His contract looks like a steal.
All these moves puts the current roster at 12 with a starting lineup of Brogdon, Oladipo, Warren, Sabonis and Turner. With a bench unit of Aaron Holiday, Lamb, Doug McDermott, TJ Leaf and Goga Bitadze. Edmond Sumner and Alize Johnson as prospects on the depth chart.
The ages of the team put them all roughly on the same timeline. With the length of Turner, Brogdon, and Lamb’s deals, this team should have a chance to really grow together long term (outside of a potential choice between Sabonis and Turner) and have some real continuity. It could be a nice change of pace from the constant roster turnover that has become the norm in the NBA.
This is a very solid roster that when at full strength could be a top-4 seed in the East depending on what happens with some of the other East contenders the rest of the summer and how well Sabonis and Turner lineups work out. The Nets got Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving but Durant will be out most of next season. The Sixers are the biggest team in the league with Al Horford, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Ben Simmons. The Celtics lost Horford and Irving but added Kemba Walker. The Raptors still may lose Kawhi Leonard to the Lakers. The Heat added Jimmy Butler but will lose a few pieces to get him. The Bucks got a little worse without Brogdon but they brought back everyone else.
The Pacers still have about $5 million potentially in cap space remaining as well as the room exception (about another $5 million). They could use each of those things separately on two different players to put the roster at 14 and keep one roster spot open as they have to start the last few seasons. They also have one 2-way contract open with Brian Bowen, who will be on the Pacers Summer League team, already getting the first 2-way spot.
There are some concerns about the fit of the roster and whether there is enough passing as it stands today as all three of Brogdon, Lamb, Warren aren’t as tremendous at setting others up as much as themselves, but there is still time for changes to be made before the start of the season.
Pacers are likely to look at a third point guard and perhaps another wing or a power forward with those open roster spaces. These moves may take longer to happen as the market settles and the Pacers look for bargain veterans that can be leaders in the locker room to round out what is now a very young roster. All of Indiana’s own free agents will likely be going elsewhere, though it’s still technically possible one or two could be brought back.
The Pacers always seemed likely to move on from their own free agents and that happened almost immediately. Thad Young agreed to a deal with the Chicago Bulls minutes after free agency started at 3 years, $41 million. He was unlikely to get anything like that from the Pacers this season and would have had a diminished role with the plan of starting Domas Sabonis at the power forward position. Bogdanovic is with the Jazz. Collison retired. Cory Joseph agreed to a deal with the Sacramento Kings in the middle of the night. Wesley Matthews and Kyle O’Quinn are still available after day one.