As the NBA draft approaches, there’s still a multitude of decisions on the horizon that will decide how similar the roster of the 2018-19 Indiana Pacers ends up being to last year’s chemistry-laden group.
The Pacers have to make decisions on the following key players and contracts this offseason (all numbers via Spotrac):
- Darren Collison: $10 million for next season becomes fully guaranteed on 7/1, if the Pacers decide to waive him before that date, it’s only partially guaranteed for $2 million
- Bojan Bogdanovic: $10.5 million for next season becomes fully guaranteed on 6/29, if the Pacers decide to waive him before that date, it’s only partially guaranteed for $1.5 million
- Lance Stephenson: Team option of $4.36 million, decision date of 6/29
- Glenn Robinson III: Unrestricted free agent
- Al Jefferson: Only $4 million of the final year of his contract is guaranteed, doesn’t become fully guaranteed until during next season (though I’ve seen conflicting reports that his guaranteed date could be 7/2)
Add those to the two player options with Thaddeus Young, as of the latest rumors, may be considering opting out and testing the FA market while Cory Joseph was reported to be opting in for next season very early in May.
So three starters and one of the first players of the bench for last season’s squad all could no longer be with the team next season. (There are also more players on the end of the bench like Joe Young, Ike Anigbogu and Alex Poythress that have decision dates for the team as their contracts become fully guaranteed this offseason as well, but all of those contracts are only around $1.5 million and a little inconsequential to the team’s overall outlook for next year).
It’s hard to imagine the Pacers simply cutting starters like Collison and Bogdanovic, who both probably just had their best NBA seasons, loose with no guarantee of an adequate replacement just to create cap space. Simply waiving them for the additional space would seem unwise for an Indiana franchise that has never had tremendous success in attracting free agents.
However, their pair of contracts are valuable trade assets for teams that are looking to create enough space to sign a free agent to a possible max contract, and this is the area, if Collison and Bogdanovic are no longer with Indiana next season, how it could possibly happen.
Since both players’ contracts become guaranteed before free agency begins (or on the same day in Collison’s case), a trade would have to happen before free agency for those teams wanting more cap space to be interested. Draft night would seem like the most obvious time for this to happen as picks could sweeten the pot for the Pacers as teams look to unload contracts. Indiana would seem unlikely to simply take on bad contracts with picks and would actually want players that can contribute next year to their emerging team that surprised the league last season.
If all is quiet and no rumors come out from the Pacers shopping these guys on draft night, they’ve probably decided they’ll be keeping as much of last year’s team together as possible for one more run.
With the recent report for ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski regarding Thad Young considering opting out and testing the free agent market, it would seem to be his agent putting pressure on the Pacers to offer a better long-term deal to keep Young around. He may prefer to be in Indiana if possible, but perhaps Pritchard doesn’t want to commit right now beyond that one season left on Thad’s contract, or Thad was hoping for far more money than the Pacers are willing to offer on a longer deal.
Since so many of the Pacers deals come off the books next season, it could be that Pritchard may want to see how this whole group does for one more season before committing to anyone beyond this upcoming year. The Pacers will have a ton of available space next year and Pritchard may want to keep as much of that as possible, especially if he likes next season’s crop of free agents.
With Lance Stephenson, I don’t know if it’s as guaranteed for the fan favorite to be back as you may think. Pritchard isn’t the one that gave Stephenson the contract as it was the final transaction of the Larry Bird era. And while Stephenson did a lot of good for the bench unit, finished many games with the starters and was always good for an energy burst, he also soaked up a lot of possessions that may have been better served going to other players on the roster on many occasions. I still think he’ll be back, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Pritchard decline his team option in order to look for more shooting and someone that doesn’t need the ball in their hands as much. This could even be giving a bigger role to Glenn Robinson III, if the Pacers still believe in his potential and want him back.
For Al Jefferson, it all depends on if the Pacers need the space to sign someone else during free agency. His locker room leadership was a reason Pritchard called him “perhaps the most important player on the team,” but paying $10 million to a guy that doesn’t play is a luxury that Indiana can’t afford if it costs them adding someone for the rotation. They’d save $6 million if they waived him.
Currently, it seems more likely that changes to the roster will be minimal. If Young opts out, that may be the biggest change as the Pacers could look elsewhere for a “true shooting 4” if a deal can’t be reach between the two. If Pritchard doesn’t trade away the first-round pick for a veteran player to possibly supplant Collison or Bogdanovic in the starting lineup, it’s hard to see the Pacers letting them go with no replacement signing already waiting in the wings.
If a lot of changes are coming for the Indiana Pacers next season, many of them will come within these next two weeks of June.