How Nikola Mirotic indirectly caused the Indiana Pacers free agency moves

The Indiana Pacers made some significant moves on the first night of free agency and one player that won’t even play in the NBA next season may have indirectly made it all happen: Nikola Mirotic.

The day before free agency started Mirotic, who was reportedly in the market for a deal ranging around $45 million, decided to leave for Euroleague club Barcelona in his home country. And so began the Basketball Butterfly Effect where a Spanish forward flapped his wings across the ocean and a tornado of transactions rushed through the league.

But Mirotic was never even rumored to be on the Pacers radar in free agency, so how did his decision leave the NBA affect the team? It starts with the team that was interested in him.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski in his podcast, the Utah Jazz had their sights on Mirotic in free agency and it was believed the interest was mutual. The Jazz would get a floor spacing power forward and move on from Derrick Favors. But once Mirotic surprised them with his decision to go back to Europe, they shifted their focus to Bojan Bogdanovic. The same night Mirotic made his choice this report came out:

Prior to this, there were only rumors of the cap-space lacking San Antonio Spurs being interested in the Croatian forward. It didn’t seem like Indiana had much competition for his services and he seemed to want to stay. Wojnarowski says that the Pacers were thinking that they would be able to sign Bogdanovic for around 3 years, $52-55 million. Once the Jazz came in with 4 years, $73 million, that’s when the Pacers plans were forced to change their plans as well as they likely didn’t want pay Bogdanovic over $18 million at age 34.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, also on the podcast, and Wojnarowski both said that this helped Malcolm Brogdon get his offer from the Pacers. Indiana had long been rumored to be the favorites to sign a different Spaniard in free agency in Ricky Rubio, but The Athletic’s Scott Agness reports the Pacers shifted their focus to a scoring point guard once Bogdanovic was lost to Utah. Enter Malcolm Brogdon, who becomes one of the biggest free agent acquisitions in team history.

All of this happened basically at once:

  • Rubio to the Suns was reported at 6:27.
  • Bogdanovic to the Jazz at 6:28
  • Jeremy Lamb to the Pacers at 6:29
  • Brogdon to the Pacers 6:31

Everything was reported within four minutes of each other. One domino quickly leading to the others. Agness also reported that the deal for Lamb could happen that fast partially because he shares an agent with Rubio. It’s incredible how quickly Kevin Pritchard and other team executives have to react and make decisions once the free agency floodgates are officially open.

Indiana could have signed both Bogdanovic and Brogdon and had enough salary cap space to do so, but it’s uncertain if they would have still gone after Brogdon even if they could have got Bogdanovic on the three-year deal. Rubio may have been the first choice in that situation with Bogdanovic. So, every Pacers signing could have been different if it Mirotic went to Jazz instead of Barcelona. Maybe it would have just been Rubio and Bogdanovic to Indiana. We’ll never know for sure.

TJ Warren’s presence on the roster likely made it easier for the Pacers to allow Bogey to leave and the Pacers set themselves up to be a young team that can really grow together and gain continuity over multiple seasons. Whatever the original thought process was, this seems to be the best-case scenario (at least realistically) that Pritchard and his front office could have hoped for.

Something else interesting in that same podcast is that Windhorst says that the Pacers owner Herb Simon called the Bucks owner once the team had agreed to a deal with RFA Brogdon and he’s the one that offered to make it a trade. Simon has long had a distaste for restricted free agency and offer sheets and Indiana has basically avoided the market. When Roy Hibbert was a restricted free agent, he agreed to an offer sheet with the Trail Blazers, but the Pacers avoided that 48-hour matching process and just signed him to the same deal that Portland had offered.

But what Windhorst is saying is bizarre. He called it “old-school” and said that Simon sees all of the owners as partners in the league, but if the Pacers didn’t need to give up those picks in order to get Brogdon, who Milwaukee may have let walk after re-signing all their other free agents, then they just gave a division rival with the reigning MVP a first-round pick and two second-round picks for no reason beyond a “courtesy.”

It’s baffling if that’s truly the case but who knows what actually happened behind the scenes. I’m trying hard to imagine a scenario where the Bucks would return the favor if they are ever interested in a Pacers RFA down the line, but it just doesn’t seem likely. Whole thing makes little sense. It’s something that could make it easier to work with them or other teams in the future (Windhorst also talked about how toxic the RFA market can get between opposing teams and players), but it’s very strange. In the end, hopefully there are protections on the first-round pick and it doesn’t come back to haunt the Pacers either way.

Update on the pick protections from Zach Lowe:

 

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