Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team's offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
Trades and Claims
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
The Pacers began the summer with a front-office shakeup, replacing president of basketball operations Larry Bird with Donnie Walsh and GM David Morway with Kevin Pritchard. Initial indications were that Bird's health was the reason he stepped down, but later we heard about Bird's frustration with owner Herb Simon's unwillingness to add to a team that had just put a scare into the eventual champion Heat in the second round of the playoffs. The Pacers had one of the lowest payrolls in the league last season, and though they're well over the cap this year, they spent most of that additional money to retain their existing talent.
The largest expenditure came in the form of a max contract for Roy Hibbert, who agreed to ink an offer sheet with the Blazers before realizing the Pacers would match, prompting him to sign with Indiana instead. His early struggles, coupled with the team's disappointing record, have led to criticism of the deal, but Hibbert's steady improvement and a 19-point, 18-rebound effort to give the Pacers a 2-1 lead in the series against Miami made the contract entirely justifiable at the time. Still, it's a necessity that Hibbert develop into a No. 1 option, or something close to it, at some point during the deal to make it ultimately worthwhile, especially for a small-market team like the Pacers. Talented seven-footers are commodities, but so are max salary slots.
Perhaps even more troubling for the Pacers might be the commitment of $40MM over five years to George Hill, who was also a restricted free agent. Hill had only started 64 regular season games in four years and spent most of last season playing behind Darren Collison. The Pacers made their choice of point guards abundantly clear when they sent Collison away in a trade with the Mavs, but there's little evidence to suggest Hill, who is a year older and had a lower career PER coming into the season, is an upgrade over Collison, who is in the final season of his rookie deal. Hill is an Indianapolis native, and the team gave up a first-round pick (Kawhi Leonard) to acquire him, so perhaps those factors played a role in the decision.
The signing of D.J. Augustin to a one-year deal for $3.5MM to serve as Hill's backup is perplexing as well, since the Pacers could have kept Collison for about $1.2MM less. The trade that sent out Collison and Dahntay Jones brought in Ian Mahinmi, who immediately signed for four years and $16MM. While Mahinmi will be nothing more than a backup center as long as Hibbert's around, $4MM isn't a particularly burdensome amount. It's a premium for someone who seems destined to play no more than 15 minutes a night, but perhaps the Pacers envision bucking the small-ball trend and spotting him some minutes at power forward in the future if they can't re-sign David West this summer. Mahinmi, like Hill, is a former first-round pick by the Spurs, and while it might be well-advised to borrow from San Antonio's model, there must be a reason Hill and Mahinmi are ex-Spurs.
The ultimate consequence of the team's long-term deals could be the team's failure to retain another key piece of its core. The Pacers got West at a something of a discount after he suffered a knee injury in 2011, and they'd reportedly like to have him back. West is already pointing to the team's books as a reason why that might not happen, as the Pacers would probably have to become a taxpayer to re-sign him, barring a trade that frees up salary.
Though this past summer was the first time in a while the Pacers were picking toward the end of the first round, the team didn't draft well under Bird's leadership. Paul George is the only starter they've taken in the first round since landing Danny Granger in 2005, with the exception of Leonard, who never wore the blue and gold. Winding up in the lottery would be a disaster for a team that hoped to contend for a division title, if not more, this season, but it might provide an inexpensive avenue for Walsh, Pritchard and company to improve the team. If it's true that Simon won't open his pocketbook any further to help the team become a legitimate title contender, Granger's injury might wind up being a blessing in disguise, and one more way the Pacers could imitate the Spurs, who parlayed David Robinson's lost season into a draft pick for Tim Duncan. That sort of wishful thinking isn't why Walsh has been around the league for so long, however, and it seems more likely the team will make changes via trade if it determines it can't make this roster work.
Luke Adams contributed to this post.