Zach Lowe of ESPN wrote a column on the Indiana Pacers earlier this week that highlights the Paul George situation and looks ahead to the very interesting summer that awaits the Larry Bird and the franchise.
One thing that Lowe said didn’t make his column that he shared to Ramon Shelburne on his podcast, the Lowe Post, was a unique situation that the Pacers have with three contracts currently on the books with player options: CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey’s options for the 2017-18 season and Monta Ellis’s option for 2018-19.
Details at around the 47:00 mark if you want to listen. Explained below as well.
Lowe says that the Pacers could waive any of those three players before the regular season is over and their player options would go off their books for the salary cap next year (This would apply for next season for Ellis since his player option is for 2018-19). Lowe says that it’s believed that these are the only three contracts like this in the entire league where the player options essentially vanish if the players are waived before the regular season ends.
This means that if the Pacers desired they could waive Stuckey before the regular season is over, and it would essentially be like he declined his player option for next season. This only works if the Pacers waive him before the regular season ends, otherwise Stuckey gets to choose whether or not to accept his player option. If the Pacers actually waived him after the regular season ends, Stuckey automatically gets the $7 million player option and it counts against the Pacers salary cap.
Miles is on an incredibly cheap, team-friendly contract at just $4 million per year, so the Pacers won’t be looking to get out of his contract early by ditching one of few players currently on the roster that can space the floor, and Miles is almost guaranteed to decline his option and cash in in free agency this off-season. The Pacers would like to keep him, but it will cost much more than he’s currently making.
Lowe doesn’t think that the Pacers would release Stuckey before the season even though he said the Pacers would probably like to not have that $7 million on their books and even looked for ways to move him at the deadline (reports that a Stuckey for John Henson deal was discussed). Lowe’s main reasoning is that it wouldn’t look good to Paul George if the Pacers were getting rid of a rotation player before the playoffs.
Stuckey, however, was replaced in the rotation by Aaron Brooks during the Pacers’ last game after many straight poor performances from Stuckey, who has struggled playing backup point guard while paired with Ellis. If the Pacers like what they see from Brooks as the backup point guard for the rest of the season and Stuckey remains out of the rotation, Bird would probably be much more likely to consider this course of action.
Stuckey and Ellis have always been redundant to the roster as poor-shooting slashing guards and removing the possibility of Stuckey, who has also struggled with injuries while with the Pacers, returning next year and opening up an additional $7 million in cap space (Pacers will have about $20 million in cap room if Stuckey accepts his option) could help Bird tremendously as he tries to improve the roster into a contender this summer that will convince George to remain in Indiana.
The Pacers could be better off this year going with just a guard rotation of Jeff Teague, Miles, Ellis, and Glenn Robinson III and leaving out both Stuckey and Brooks completely as they both are poor fits with Ellis coming off the bench. The minutes that Brooks or Stuckey have been getting could easily be split among Robinson, Miles and George, especially as the starters get heavier minutes in the playoffs.
It seems unlikely that Stuckey would be missed this season if the Pacers let him go, but if George is a big fan of Stuckey, Bird could be hesitant to let him go before the playoffs. That $7 million would certainly help the Pacers this summer as they try to convince George to stay however. It is possible that Stuckey declines his option this summer anyway as $7 million is a relatively low total compared to the crazy deals players are signing in free agency now, but he seems to like the team and city, and it’s probably unlikely he would get more from another team this off-season. He may be able to get a similar yearly value, but more than just the one year he has remaining if he does decline.
Lowe thinks that it’s more likely that the Pacers could look to waive Ellis before the end of next year’s regular season if he continues to decline and if the Pacers aren’t very good next year. Monta’s player option is for $11 million for the 2018-19 season and the Pacers should be jumping at an opportunity to clear that contract off the books a year early. We’ll have to wait and see what Bird decides to do when the time comes for both Stuckey and Ellis.