Offseason Outlook: Indiana Pacers

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.

Brian Spurlock / USA TODAY Sports Images

Brian Spurlock / USA TODAY Sports Images

Coaching Search

It’ll be interesting to see whether president of basketball operations Larry Bird holds himself accountable in the same fashion by which he held Frank Vogel to a dauntingly high standard. If so, he’ll have to nail the search for Vogel’s replacement. Among the legitimate candidates, Nate McMillan and Brian Shaw have Pacers ties, but their track records don’t favor the go-go style Bird seems to want. Count Mike Woodson squarely in the stagnant-offense group, too. Jim Boylen was to help speed up the Bulls offense as an assistant this year, but that experiment flopped. Mike D’Antoni helped forge the NBA’s small-ball revolution, but it’s fair to question whether Bird wants to deal with a strong personality like his. The same goes for Mark Jackson, though he and Bird had a successful working relationship as player and coach.

Jeff Hornacek is much more understated and did masterful work with a two-headed point guard look his first year in Phoenix. Randy Wittman ratcheted up the Wizards offense to the fifth-highest pace in the league this season, according to NBA.com, and the Indiana native would help win over a fanbase skeptical of the Vogel firing. Hornacek and Wittman are the best fits in the running thus far.

What Happened To Ty Lawson?

Transitioning to a quicker attack is about more than finding the right coach. The Pacers lost two starting-caliber big men from their 2014/15 team but replaced Roy Hibbert and David West with only one proven starting option on the perimeter in Monta Ellis, so Bird needs to use the ample cap flexibility at his disposal to make at least one major addition. An outside chance exists that the upgrade is one the team already made when it signed Lawson in March. A foot injury he suffered five minutes into his first game with the Pacers knocked him out for two weeks, and he never became a major contributor, essentially falling out of the rotation late in Indiana’s first-round series against Toronto.

Perhaps Lawson failed to deliver because Vogel didn’t give him enough of a chance, or maybe the blame rests with Lawson, who didn’t succeed with the Rockets, either. Regardless, the speedy point guard is only 28 and just a year removed from averaging 15.2 points and 9.6 assists per game for the Nuggets. He may well prove one of the few value plays on the free agent market this summer if he takes the right approach and has the right voices in his ear. If so, and the Pacers re-sign him, he’d be the missing piece in the starting lineup, with everyone else sliding down a position. Of course, that assumes Paul George would be more receptive to guarding power forwards than he was at the beginning of this past season, but maybe the right coach can either convince him or devise lineup combinations that would limit his time at the four.

Free Agent Targets

The Pacers are set to open plenty of cap room, and just how much flexibility they’ll have will come down to whether they’re willing to keep Ian Mahinmi and give him the significant raise it would take for them to do so. Bird is duly impressed with Myles Turner, and a decent chance exists that the rookie’s strong performance this season was enough to convince the Pacers to let Mahinmi walk and turn the starting center position over to the 20-year-old from Texas. Such a move would free money for the Pacers to go hard after the perimeter player of their choice.

Indianapolis native Mike Conley would be an obvious candidate, though one for whom the Pacers would have fervent competition. Harrison Barnes would appear to be a strong fit, no stranger to a modern, souped-up offense, and he’s just the sort of perimeter player who could guard power forwards and let George play the three. Still, his free agency is restricted, and it may well take the max, or close to it, to convince the Warriors not to match. Nicolas Batum‘s free agency will be unrestricted, but it seems like he’ll be tough to pry from Charlotte. Plugging Luol Deng into the same small-ball power forward role in which he’s thrived with Miami would represent a cheaper and more feasible alternative, and the Pacers could always attempt to crack the riddle that is Jeff Green.

Potential Trades

Another way to use cap space is to absorb players into it via trade, and the Pacers could revisit their reported discussion with the Hawks about Jeff Teague. Still, plenty of teams figure to call Atlanta about either Teague or Dennis Schröder, driving up the price. Bird and company could see what it would take to trade for Derrick Rose if they’re willing to overpay him for a season before his contract runs out. Ricky Rubio‘s name comes up frequently in trade rumors, though newly minted Wolves executive Tom Thibodeau is a wild card. The Pacers have all their future draft picks to offer up, but they’d probably have a tough time finding a taker for anyone on the roster who isn’t part of their core.

Draft Outlook

  • First-round picks: 20th
  • Second-round picks: 50th

The Pacers have four players taken in the last two drafts plus undrafted developmental player Shayne Whittington, but only Turner sees meaningful minutes. The Pacers probably trade this pick if Bird doesn’t identify someone at No. 20 who’d motivate him to move on from Whittington, Joe Young or Glenn Robinson III. Perhaps Baylor small forward Taurean Prince, who played four years of college ball, would contribute immediately for Indiana if he were the pick here. Indiana’s second-rounder is in a prime spot for the always cost-conscious Pacers to trade it for cash.

Other Decisions

Bird said he wouldn’t rule out re-signing Solomon Hill, but the ill-fated decision to decline his team option for next season sharply limits what the Pacers can offer him and almost certainly closes off the possibility of him remaining with Indiana. Fellow soon-to-be free agent Jordan Hill was an efficient rebounder, as usual, but Vogel went away from him during the stretch run and the playoffs, and he doesn’t seem a fit for a new coach’s faster style, either. The non-guaranteed salaries of Robinson and Whittington become fully guaranteed on August 1st, so the moves Indiana makes in the draft and free agency, rather than their training camp performances, will decide their fate.

Final Take

Bird seems impatient for the team to return to the Eastern Conference elite, and it’s tough to blame him for wanting a more unified focus than the team had this past season. Still, Vogel did a splendid job with a roster in the midst of transition. The team’s cap flexibility means it’ll probably have better players next season, but they risk offsetting the upgrade to their lineup with an inferior coach.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents

  • None

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

  • No. 20 pick ($1,301,900)

Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000

Footnotes:

  1. The Pacers can’t re-sign Hill to a contract with a starting salary worth more than the amount listed here because they declined their team option on his rookie scale contract.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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3 Comments on "Offseason Outlook: Indiana Pacers"

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V
Member
V
4 months 16 days ago

Only coach mentioned up there that makes sense for what Bird is trying to do is Jeff Hornacek. Why keep reporting about candidates who dont fit the uptempo bill and never have. Might as well had kept Vogel if you hire Nate, Woodson, Boylen, Whitman etc. The coach list should easily be these:
Messina
Jeff Hornacek
Tibetts
Jarron Collins
Stephen Silas
All coaches who philosophy will be pace, space, and uptempo offense. This is not about experience in the headcoach field because experience doesn’t mean you know how to run the offense Bird is looking for cause clearly Vogel could not.

Jevan McPhail
Member
Jevan McPhail
4 months 16 days ago

I like the mike Conley fit. However, we really need a good big. The overall goal over the next couple of seasons is to show Paul George that there is a future in Indiana and get him to resign when his contract is up in 2017-18.

JT19
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JT19
4 months 16 days ago

Point guard is the biggest hole, it has been for the past few years (George Hill and Monta Ellis are more along the lines of a combo guard and shouldn’t be the main playmaker). They can get by with their bigs with Turner, Lavoy Allen and Mahinmi (with another big or two in there for depth). A stretch four/big foward who can play the four spot would also be good.

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