Offseason Outlook: Indiana Pacers

June 22 at 10:29pm CST By Zach Links

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 2nd Round (57th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $60,055,974
  • Options: $0
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $4,875,716
  • Cap Holds: $24,014,959
  • Total: $88,946,649

Just when the Nets thought they had the mantle of the NBA’s weirdest season all sewn up, the Pacers came along and blew them out of the water.  The Pacers have been known as a hard-working, cohesive team over the last few years, but the second half this season was chock full of locker room turmoil and questionable effort.

The strangeness continued in the Eastern Conference Finals with Lance Stephenson‘s antics directed at LeBron James.  The Pacers spent much of the season worrying that they might lose the 23-year-old Stephenson in free agency, but it now seems quite possible that Indiana won’t welcome him back. President of basketball operations Larry Bird proclaimed that the decision whether to return would be Stephenson’s, but that was on the heels of a report that there are many within the Pacers organization who don’t believe the team should give Stephenson a lucrative long-term deal. It’s not hard to understand why there would be doubts about him. Stephenson’s talent is undeniable and when he’s on, his energy is a very real difference maker for the Pacers.  Unfortunately, his behavior has hurt them on the court and caused a reported rift in the locker room with center Roy Hibbert and midseason acquisition Evan Turner.

The decision to keep Stephenson, of course, won’t be so black-and-white — it’ll be heavily dependent on the offers he gets from other clubs.  The Hornets and Pistons have been cited as potential suitors and there should be plenty more coming out of the woodwork.  Earlier this season, it looked like Stephenson could draw a deal worth about $10MM per season. Now, Stephenson has probably dinged his value, with a former GM recently pegging his expected earnings at $5-8MM per year.  A deal around the middle of that range, about $7MM/year, would seem to split the difference between Stephenson’s million-dollar body and ten-cent head. Something like a three-year, $21MM pact could satisfy Stephenson’s camp and give the Pacers a digestible, if not ideal, level of risk.

Stephenson is hardly the only Pacers notable that could be in a different uniform next year. It wasn’t long ago that this would have been unthinkable, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Pacers entertain offers for Hibbert.  George Hill, who is slated to make $8MM in 2014/15, could also be moved for the right price.  It’s harder to see someone like David West getting dealt, but then again, it was hard to envision the Pacers falling apart the way they did this past season.  Another trade chip could be Chris Copeland, even if he doesn’t seem as alluring as the aforementioned names. The forward was more or less buried on the Pacers’ bench, but when he did get playing time, he flashed a shooting range that few men his size can offer. Bird & Co. must leave no stone unturned in their bid to get back on the right track.

The Pacers have some serious work to do when it comes to their second unit.  Turner didn’t nearly have the kind of impact that Indiana was hoping for last season and he seems as good as gone.  Even while the Pacers watched Stephenson get wacky down the stretch of the season, they still trusted him much more than their mid-season acquisition.  Few would have expected the Pacers to use Turner in just 12.4 minutes per contest in the playoffs after trading Danny Granger for one of the biggest names dealt in February, but that’s how things ended up with Indiana and the former No. 2 overall pick.  Turner is ticketed to go elsewhere and he’s certain to earn less than the eight-figure salary he pocketed last season.  Bird believes that the bench role didn’t really suit Turner well and seems confident that he’ll find success in someone else’s uniform.  “Whatever happens, wherever he’s at next year, if he plays 30-35 minutes, he’s going to average 17 points,” Bird told reporters, including Conrad Brunner of ESPN 1070.

Veteran Luis Scola offers toughness and veteran guidance, but with less than $1MM of his $4.87MM guaranteed for next season, the Pacers might let him go in order to give themselves more flexibility elsewhere.  Scola averaged 17.1 minutes, 7.6 points, and 4.8 rebounds last season, career-lows in each category.  The forward seemed lost in coach Frank Vogel‘s offense and there’s certainly no guarantee that he can get in the groove next season.

The Pacers won’t have a ton of wiggle room to improve their bench, especially if they re-sign Stephenson.  There will be low-cost fixes out there, however, and they’re reportedly showing interest in Spanish league power forward Damjan Rudez.  If the Pacers move Copeland, it sounds like Rudez could be a solid replacement with his 47.3% three-point shooting percentage.

What the Pacers won’t have at their disposal, unfortunately, is their first round pick (No. 27), which they traded to the Suns a year ago for Scola.  Bird knows how valuable a first round pick is in this year’s deep draft and told reporters recently (including Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star) that he’d like to trade back into the top 30.  A sign-and-trade of Stephenson could certainly yield a pick — and more — but there’s no question that they’d rather have Stephenson back at the right price.  No matter how you slice it, the Pacers’ offseason will revolve on what happens with the polarizing guard.

Cap footnotes

* — Sloan’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before August 15th.

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