Victor Oladipo is making his media rounds lately and appeared on ESPN’s morning show Get Up! to talk about a variety of topics including being traded twice, about the state of the Eastern Conference after LeBron James decided to go to Los Angeles and about that missed goaltending call in the playoffs.
Michelle Beadle, one of the hosts of the show, wanted to know what players in the East felt like when James, who has dominated the conference, decided to go to a Western Conference team.
“When I first heard about it, I was a little upset,” said Oladipo. “I like playing against the best player in the world and competing against him and seeing where you’re at.”
McDermott, who will be on his fifth team in five seasons, will be reunited with a pair of former teammates: Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, who thrived with the Pacers after struggling in their lone season with the Thunder as their roles didn’t fit their skill sets. Dougie McBuckets will look to do the same with the Pacers after having a very successful stint with the Mavericks to end last season, shooting nearly 50% from 3-point territory in 26 games.
As free agency draws near, the Indiana Pacers know that a lot of their players will be back next season. Kevin Pritchard said after the draft that he hoped to bring back the team’s top six or seven players and with Thad Young exercising his player option yesterday, all seven will return: Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic and Young.
“They wildly overachieved and they deserve to see if they can build on that,” said Pritchard. “It’s my job to add a few more players, a few more pieces that could help them get past the first round or make the playoffs.”
Even with all those players returning, the Pacers can still create nearly $20 million in space by waiving Al Jefferson and declining Joe Young’s team option after already declining Lance Stephenson’s team option.
With so few teams having available cap space, if the player the Pacers want is out there in free agency, they won’t have a ton of competition for many of the players. For now, let’s look at a few wings that are in the midst of their prime and among the second-tier of free agents (after the superstar level) that have already been connected to Indiana via rumors and see how they could possibly fit on the team.
In case this is your first time here, here’s the concept of This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: I take an interesting picture from the history of the Indiana Pacers from ABA glory to the modern era and literally write 1,000 words (or more) about the photo.
We’ve covered the misery of Knicks fans against Reggie Miller, that game the Pacers played with only six active players, among other things. You can see all the past columns here.
Today, we talk about Lance Stephenson. Born Ready. The Lord of Hype. Lance make ’em dance.
Lance Stephenson, the Lord of Hype, the Born Ready, the Honorary Hoosier, the Jester of the House of Bankers: pic.twitter.com/UHEmYdyTwQ
Stephenson’s team option for the 2018-19 season was declined by the Indiana Pacers which will make him a free agent. The final year of his contract was for only $4.3 million, but Kevin Pritchard and the front office must have some kind of splash in mind this offseason and decided they needed to utilize that money to upgrade the roster.
While the team hasn’t completely ruled out bringing him back, that likely will only happen if the Pacers are unable to sign someone else that fills a role similar to his own. With so few teams having cap space this season, it’s hard to see the Pacers completely striking out. This very well could be the end of Stephenson in a Pacers uniform as rumors spread immediately after the Stephenson news broke that the Pacers are interested in Will Barton, Tyreke Evans and Marcus Smart.
Oladipo on Lance: "I Facetimed with him yesterday. He’s in good spirits. He’s a great human being. It was an honor and a privilege to play with him last year."
Whether any of those players will be a large enough upgrade over Stephenson to warrant the greater cost is a discussion for another time. Right now, we’re here to talk Lance. Because if this is truly the end, this is the conclusion of an unforgettable tale of a Brooklyn basketball prodigy that became a beloved Indiana legend.
This picture was chosen for the column over countless other incredible moments is because it shows the effect that Stephenson had on the Pacers faithful at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. It shows how much the city and state embraced him when he returned from his humbling nearly 3-year journey with five other NBA teams, seldom looking like the player he was before leaving.
“When I got the call, I almost cried,” Stephenson said when he first spoke to reporters after signing his contract to return to the Pacers organization. “I feel like Indiana is family.”
When Stephenson came back at the end of the 2016-17 season, he was a beacon of light in one of the darkest times in recent Pacers history as the Paul George situation loomed over the entire franchise. His first game back against the Toronto Raptors was probably the highlight of the season.
The Pacers were on the verge on missing the playoffs with a collective group that had no business not at least making the postseason. Behind an energetic boost from Lance that seemed to give the entire team some liveliness, the Pacers finished the season on a 5-game winning streak and made the playoffs.
The Pacers were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs, but the prodigal son had returned and looked like the Pacers second-best player in the series, almost exactly how Indiana remembered him: aggressive, fearless and flashy.
“Some teams, I’d only get three dribbles, or I’d have to stand in the corner,” Stephenson said this past season when talking about why he’s fit better with Indiana than other places. “They (Pacers staff) let me be myself. They don’t guard me, or tell me not to do stuff. If I play freely, if coaches let me play the game, you’ll see the talent in me.”
When Lance is allowed to be Lance, there is so much to enjoy. You can love him for the silly, slightly crazy parts of his game like the celebrations (air guitar, hip gyration, the bird, the fake heartattack, the shimmy), the headbutting of stanchions after big plays or the fact that searching his name in a GIF finder is a treasure trove of greatness.
All those things showed how much Lance loves the game of basketball. He loves the game with a passion that only can seem to be matched by people from Indiana. He approaches the game with a fierce intensity and a sense of child-like joy. Pure elation when things are going right and never giving up when they aren’t.
There’s nothing quite like experiencing a classic Lance moment in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse as he sizes up an opponent with dribble moves like he’s back in New York at Rucker Park. Every bounce of the ball pushes the crowd closer to a frenzy and when the play reaches its peak as Stephenson goes up for a layup or rises for a jump shot, the entire arena becomes a singular sentient being with the sole purpose of getting hype.
And the moves don’t always work. Sometimes Lance makes pump fakes with one-hand with no effect on the defender, sometimes he loses the ball on the dribble. But maybe that’s part of why the moments are so special when they do.
Now you’re probably asking yourself: well, what did Lance do after he got the ball? Did he at least make Cory look good?
When Stephenson plays, every pass is an opportunity to engage the crowd. No-look, behind-the-back attempts are as commonplace as a fundamentally sound chest or bounce pass. To this day, I’ve never seen a more impressive pass than one Stephenson made during his first tenure in Indiana: a behind-the-back, no-look, in the air pass to a wide open CJ Watson in the corner for a 3-pointer.
When Stephenson gets the crowd involved, it gives everyone else on the team that same adrenaline boost. That’s the Lance Effect. His energy off the bench this season was a huge part of the Pacers penchant for making comebacks. In the first large comeback of the season, it was Stephenson that sparked the effort in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons by grabbing rebounds on both ends and hitting big shots.
He played a huge part of the team’s comeback against the Nuggets later as well. This time it was his defensive effort making a difference.
This is everything Indiana loves about Lance Stephenson in a single picture.
But perhaps bigger than his clear passion for the game, his entertainment value and relentless effort, Indiana fans love Stephenson because he is fearless and won’t back down from anyone, especially when it comes to LeBron James.
“I fear no man,” Stephenson said after the Pacers won Game 6 in the first round against the Cavaliers this season. “You on the other team, I don’t care. I don’t care about you.”
Stephenson is well known for his knack of getting under LeBron’s skin. Something that very few, if any, other players can claim they’ve done. While Stephenson is over-matched in skill, strength and every other measurable category to the best player in the world, he has never backed down from challenge of James.
He blew in his ear. He tapped him across the face, grabbed his chest. He flopped at every opportunity. He’d attempt to provoke him. This past season he finally got James to respond and earned two technical calls against LeBron during the season. But he wasn’t just an irritant, Lance picked up his game in the playoffs as well.
In these battles against James, he perfectly symbolizes his team as the one that always gives the best all they can handle, even if they always seem to fall just short.
Stephenson almost made a jump ball one of the best plays in Pacers history when in the fourth quarter of Game 4, he first won a jump ball against James and then held the ball up like it was Simba in the Lion King. Later, in the closing seconds nearly won another one against Jeff Green that would have possibly given the Pacers one last chance to tie the game as you can see one ref call for a tie up and the other call for a foul at about the same time.
The Indiana Pacers were surprised that Aaron Holiday fell to them at the 23rd pick in the first round of the NBA Draft on Thursday night.
“We were shocked that he was there,” said Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard.
Pritchard, General Manager Chad Buchanan and Head Coach Nate McMillan all had praise for his basketball IQ, his toughness and his fit with the Pacers budding culture.
“There are certain things that we look for and value in a player and he checked all those boxes,” said Buchanan who praised his toughness, maturity, composure and work ethic,
They praised the intangible aspects of his game repeatedly, but what does Holiday bring to the table as a point guard that intrigued the Pacers into taking him in the first round?
“He’s got a lot of things that will transfer from day one,” said Buchanan on draft night. “… Everything we’ve heard about him as a worker is phenomenal. I think he’s just going to turn into a great Pacer.”
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)
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.
It took Victor Oladipo 16 minutes after the game ended to start thinking about next season and to text his trainer.
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.