The NBA has granted Indiana’s request for a disabled player exception in the wake of the Paul George injury, reports Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star (Twitter link). It’s worth $5.305MM, meaning Indiana can use that amount to sign a player to a one-year deal or acquire a player on an expiring contract via waiver claim. The Pacers may alternatively use the amount plus $100K to trade for a player, as long as the player’s contract doesn’t extend past this coming season. Still, it’s unlikely the team would use the full amount of the exception, given its tight squeeze against the luxury tax line, one which Larry Bird reiterated today that the club will not cross.
The Pacers had been among the teams limited to signing players for no more than the minimum salary, so the exception will at least give Indiana the power to exceed that amount. Indiana has a team salary of $74,810,552, according to Mark Deeks of ShamSports, which puts the club $2,018,448 shy of the tax threshold. The Pacers can afford themselves some breathing room if they release the partially guaranteed contracts of Luis Scola or Shayne Whittington, though Whittington seems a much stronger candidate to go. Donald Sloan has a non-guaranteed minimum salary, but Bird said today that the team intends to keep him beyond Friday, when his contract becomes fully guaranteed, so that’s one fewer avenue to salary flexibility.
Whittington’s rookie minimum salary is only guaranteed for $25K, so the Pacers could increase their room beneath the tax to $2,500,784 if they waive him. That would be more than $1MM in excess of what the Cavs can offer Shawn Marion for this season, since Cleveland can hand out only the veteran’s minimum. The Pacers have continued to make a push to sign Marion, who’s reportedly leaning toward inking with the Cavs instead. Bird said today that he believes Marion wants to sign with a title-contending team. Indiana’s hopes probably vanished when George went down, but Bird also indicated today that he doesn’t intend to make moves that would further weaken the team this year and will instead try to win as many games as possible, as the Star’s Michael Pointer chronicles (Twitter link).
Bird didn’t rule out the chance that George returns to play this season after suffering a compound leg fracture in a Team USA scrimmage earlier this month, but the executive acknowledged that the club expects George to remain out for the year. The league grants a disabled player exception based on a medical prognosis that would put a player out for the balance of the season, but there’s no penalty if the player surprises and returns to action. Any player acquired via the exception may continue to play for the team in that scenario.