Five Key Offseason Questions: Indiana Pacers

The trade that sent Paul George to Oklahoma City in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, widely panned at the time, was the catalyst for the Pacers‘ surprisingly strong 2017/18 season. Although they were unable to knock off the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs, the Pacers won 48 regular-season games and then gave LeBron James‘ squad all it could handle in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Having cleverly sidestepped the prospect of a potential rebuild, the Pacers are now in position to keep fortifying an impressive roster, given their cap flexibility.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. Will Thaddeus Young opt out of his contract?

The second-highest-paid player on the Pacers’ roster in 2017/18, Young also averaged the second-most minutes per game behind Oladipo, playing an important role in the team’s success. Still, as a frontcourt player who doesn’t protect the rim or make many outside shots, Young probably wouldn’t be one of the league’s most coveted free agents if he opts out of his contract this summer.

Nonetheless, Young is reportedly strongly considering the possibility of declining a player option worth $13.76MM. The veteran forward, who turns 30 on Thursday, may never again have a better chance to land a long-term contract than he does this summer, so even if he has take a pay cut for 2018/19, signing a multiyear deal and receiving some long-term security could be worth it.

Young’s decision will have a significant impact on the Pacers’ cap outlook for next season. If he opts out and doesn’t re-sign in Indiana, the club could potentially double its available cap room, which would create new opportunities in the free agent and/or trade market.

The best outcome for both sides may see Young turn down his player option in order to sign a new contract with the Pacers. For instance, an agreement in the three-year, $30MM range would give Young a good reason to turn down a one-year payday of $13MM+, and it would open up some extra cap space for Indiana this summer.

2. Will the Pacers retain their veterans on partially guaranteed contracts?

The majority of players around the NBA who are on non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts for 2018/19 will earn the minimum salary if they’re retained. That’s not the case for three Pacers veterans, who would make a combined $30.5MM if they stick with Indiana.

Bojan Bogdanovic ($10.5MM) and Darren Collison ($10MM) signed similar two-year contracts with Indiana last summer, and now both look like good bets to return for next season. Bogdanovic only has a $1.5MM guarantee, but he had an excellent year as the Pacers’ starting small forward, averaging a career-high 14.3 PPG and knocking down 40.2% of his three-pointers. At $10.5MM on an expiring deal, he’s a solid value, and the same can be said for Collison, who has a $2MM partial guarantee for now. As Indiana’s starting point guard, he recorded 12.4 PPG and 5.3 APG to go along with a league-leading .468 3PT%.

That leaves Jefferson, who also has a $10MM salary for next season, with $4MM currently guaranteed. Unlike Bogdanovic and Collison, the 33-year-old isn’t a regular rotation player for the Pacers, having established new career lows in minutes in each of his two seasons in Indiana. The Pacers would save $6MM by waiving Jefferson, and I’d be surprised if they don’t take advantage of that opportunity.

It’s possible that the outlooks for these players could change — if the Pacers get a shot at a marquee free agent, perhaps Bogdanovic and/or Collison would need to be waived to create extra cap space. If Indiana has to add salary to a trade package to make a major deal work, or needs to reach the minimum cap floor, perhaps Jefferson’s salary will get guaranteed. But for now, the club’s decisions seem fairly straightforward.

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Draft Workouts: Sixers, Grizzlies, Pacers, Hornets, T-Wolves

The Sixers will host Kentucky forward Kevin Knox and Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith for the second time on Tuesday, according to a team release. Knox’s workout will be separate from the other six players they will bring in, including Smith. The Sixers hold the No. 10 selection in the lottery. Knox is currently ranked No. 9 by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, while Smith is slotted at No. 16. The other members of the group workout are all guards, including B.J. Johnson (La Salle), De’Anthony Melton (USC), Tyler Nelson (Fairfield), Malik Newman (Kansas) and Landry Shamet (Wichita State). Melton (No. 24, Givony) is a possibility for the Sixers with their other first-rounder at No. 26.

We have numerous other draft workouts to pass along:

Hayward Should Be Fully Cleared By Mid-August

Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared for basketball activities no later than mid-August, Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach.

Hayward underwent a surgical procedure on May 30th to have a plate and screws removed from his surgically-repaired left fibula and ankle. The timetable after the surgery was 6-8 weeks before Hayward could return to basketball activities. Stevens said Hayward was close to participating in 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 scrimmages before he experienced irritation related to the plate inserted during the initial surgery.

“He just had a little bit of pain in the back side of his foot and that’s why they decided to remove the plate,” Stevens told Himmelsbach.

The late surgery appears to be just what Hayward needed.

 “Everything is good and pointed toward being back exactly where he was — hopefully pain-free, because that plate is taken out — in the middle of July, which probably points to an early August, mid August fully cleared time frame,” Stevens said.

Boston still reached the Eastern Conference Finals despite Hayward’s devastating opening night injury. His name has been tossed into trade rumors involving the Celtics’ potential pursuit of Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard.

Kings Don’t Want Clippers’ Lottery Picks

The Kings are not interested in trading the No. 2 overall pick for the Clippers’ back-to-back selections at No. 12 and No. 13, Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times tweets.

The Kings reportedly are willing to move down to acquire additional assets but apparently they’re not keen to drop out of the Top 10 for two late lottery selections. The Clippers, who didn’t make the playoffs, acquired an additional first-round selection in the deal that sent Blake Griffin to the Pistons.

Sacramento is reportedly willing to do business with the Spurs and include the pick in a trade for Kawhi Leonard, though that seems to be a longshot since Leonard can exercise an early termination option on his contract after next season.

What Turner’s tweet confirms is that the Clippers are actively seeking to package the picks and move into the Top 5. That reinforces a Yahoo Sports report earlier this month that also claimed they have their eyes on Euroleague guard Luka Doncic.

If the Kings hold onto their pick, it’s a near lock they’ll pick Duke big man Marvin Bagley III, according to the Dallas Morning News’ Eddie Sefko (Twitter link).

What should the Kings do with their pick? Voice your opinion in our latest Community Shootaround topic.

Community Shootaround: Kings’ No. 2 Overall Pick

From all appearances, the Suns will take Arizona center Deandre Ayton with the top pick on Thursday. However, there’s quite a bit of intrigue in terms of what the Kings will do at No. 2.

For months, Euro guard Luka Doncic was considered the likely selection at that spot. His stock has seemingly fallen this month, as Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports reported Monday that Doncic could still be on the board at No. 4.

The Kings could use help in a lot of areas, of course, and they’re not chock full of dynamic playmakers. They were tied for 24th in the league in assists per game last season. But they are apparently committed to last year’s lottery pick, De’Aaron Fox, as their main ballhandler.

Instead, they’re in the market for big man who can stretch the defense. Duke’s Marvin Bagley III has emerged as the leading candidate to fill that need. He’s a near-lock to be their selection, according to the Dallas Morning News’ Eddie Sefko (Twitter link).

The 6’11” Bagley put up big numbers in his lone college season, averaging 21.0 PPG and 11.1 RPG. He didn’t take a lot of threes but he knocked down 39.7% of the ones he attempted.

Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson, who reportedly had a very impressive workout for the Suns, is another enticing prospect. Texas center Mohamed Bamba has zoomed up many draft boards and is currently ranked No. 3 overall by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. Michael Porter Jr., despite his health risks, could be the wildcard in the equation.

It’s no lock the Kings will even hold onto the pick. GM Vlade Divac is reportedly willing to deal the pick in order to acquire additional assets. When Kawhi Leonard made public last week his desire to be dealt from the Spurs, the Kings made the list of potential landings spots. They are reportedly willing to give up the pick as part of a package to land the star forward.

This brings us to our question of the day: Assuming the Suns draft Ayton with the top pick, which player should the Kings select at No. 2? Or should the Kings deal the pick for additional draft choices and/or players?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to what you have to say.

Marreese Speights Close To Signing With Chinese Team

Veteran big man Marreese Speights is close to an agreement with China’s Guangzhou Long Lions, international reporter David Pick tweets.

This would be an interesting move for Speights, who is once again entering unrestricted NBA free agency next month. It suggests the offer must be substantial, since he could still fit the bill for an NBA team seeking a stretch four and veteran leadership.

Speights has bounced around the league in recent seasons and played on a veteran’s minimum contract — approximately $2.12MM — with the Magic last season. The cap hit on the contract was $1.47MM and the league paid the difference.

Speights, whose career began in 2008/09 with the Sixers, is best known for playing with the Warriors for three seasons. He won a ring in 2015.

He appeared in all 82 regular-season games with the Clippers in 2016/17, then moved on to the Magic last season. He saw action in 52 games, including three starts, and averaged 7.7 PPG and 2.6 RPG in 13.0 MPG.

The 6’10” Speights shot an above-average 36.9% from long range while taking a career-high 4.5 attempts per game.

Cavs Willing To Trade Lottery Pick For Vets

The Cavaliers are seeking proven veterans from teams looking to move up in the draft despite not knowing LeBron Jamesplans for the future, Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

Cleveland has the No. 8 overall pick on Thursday, courtesy of the Kyrie Irving blockbuster deal with the Celtics last summer. The front office has sent signals that it intends to upgrade the team, even if James opts out of his contract or requests a trade, Vardon continues.

Cleveland has sent out feelers to the Spurs about their willingness to deal disgruntled forward Kawhi Leonard. Hornets point guard Kemba Walker is another potential target, according to Vardon. Adding another impact player would be a way of trying to entice James to stay put but, of course, there’s no guarantee that will convince him to do so.

The front office and James’ camp have been in contact over the phone and in person lately, though the team’s brass hasn’t met with James,, sources told Vardon. There have not been any serious discussions regarding his future because James remains uncertain what he’s going to do, Vardon adds.

Despite their willingness to deal, the Cavaliers could still hold onto the pick.

Adding another veteran or two, especially if Cleveland uses the $5.8MM trade exception it possesses, would present even more salary-cap issues. The Cavs will pay about $50MM in luxury-tax penalties on last season’s payroll, Vardon notes, and they’ll still be over the cap even if James bolts without them trading for more help. Yet the Cavs’ front office is still willing to take on more salary with the hope of improving their chances to retain James, Vardon adds.

Milos Teodosic Unlikely To Return To Clippers?

One year after arriving in Los Angeles from the EuroLeague, Milos Teodosic may see his time with the Clippers come to an end. The Clips are leaning toward parting ways with Teodosic this offseason, a league source tells Orazio Cauchi of Sportando.

Teodosic is one of four Clippers with a player option for 2018/19. Wesley Johnson ($6.1MM) has already opted in, but DeAndre Jordan ($24.1MM), Austin Rivers ($12.7MM), and Teodosic ($6.3MM) still have decisions to make.

Teodosic’s situation is somewhat unusual, since his salary will only become partially guaranteed if he exercises his player option. The Clippers would be on the hook for $2.1MM, but could eliminate the remaining $4.2MM from their books if they waive him by July 15, according to Basketball Insiders’ contract data. It’s essentially an informal mutual option — both the player and the team would have to pick up their sides for the veteran point guard to return to L.A. next season.

Teodosic had a solid NBA rookie season after a successful run in Europe, averaging 9.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 2.8 RPG with a .419/.379/.848 shooting line. However, he was limited to just 45 games due to injury issues. Concerns over Teodosic’s foot are one reason why the Clippers are considering going in another direction, Cauchi notes. The 31-year-old suffered a tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot near the end of the season, ending his year early.

If the Clippers do decide to waive Teodosic – or if he simply turns down his player option – it’s not clear what his next move would be. He talked during the season about how much he was enjoying his NBA experience, but there’s a growing feeling that he may consider a return to Europe if he becomes a free agent, according to Sportando.

Raptors Exploring Ways To Land Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?

The Raptors are one of two teams without a pick in the 2018 NBA draft, but they’re exploring all of their trade options as they consider getting back into the first round, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link). According to Stein, Toronto’s goal would be to acquire a pick high enough to land Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Gilgeous-Alexander – a native of Hamilton, Ontario – has been a mystery man throughout the pre-draft process, as Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer notes (via Twitter). The former Kentucky Wildcat is viewed as a probable lottery pick, but reportedly hasn’t worked out for any teams and declined to name which clubs he met with at the combine in May.

While it’s possible that Gilgeous-Alexander’s camp is attempting to steer the youngster to his hometown team, that would probably be a long shot, given Toronto’s lack of 2018 draft assets. According to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (via Twitter), team management has conveyed both privately and publicly that it doesn’t want to a significant step backwards in the short term, and the cost of a top-10 pick would be high.

Still, one league source tells Stein that no one on the Raptors’ roster is off limits in trade talks. That includes All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry — Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter link) says he’s heard from several places that Lowry is “very available.”

Gilgeous-Alexander spent just one season at Kentucky, doing a little of everything for the Wildcats. He averaged 14.4 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.1 RPG, and 1.6 SPG with a shooting line of .485/.404/.817.

While nothing may come of the Raptors’ pursuit of a lottery pick, the fact that the team is exploring the opportunity is an indication that the front office figures to take the same approach to its roster as it did to its coaching staff this offseason — Dwane Casey was dismissed after a Coach of the Year caliber season, and it appears the Raps won’t hesitate to shake up a roster that won 59 games in 2017/18.

Draft Notes: Grizzlies, Magic, Nuggets, Gabriel

Teams near the top of the draft continue to explore trade options as Thursday approaches. The Grizzlies are one of those teams, as they continue to receive significant interest in scenarios that would see them send out Chandler Parsons along with the No. 4 pick, per Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link). According to Stein, it seems clear that remaining in the lottery is crucial to the Grizzlies, who are believed to be taking more calls than they’re making.

Meanwhile, a couple spots down the draft order, the Magic are also having “exploratory” trade talks, president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said on Monday.

“We’re having discussions above us and below us, but I wouldn’t comment more specifically than that,” Weltman said, according to Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel. “It’s our job to explore every possible option, get to know the draft as well as we possibly can. And, obviously, the draft isn’t just about the draft. It’s about other roster moves that you could potentially look at as well. So there’s not a team we don’t talk to. There’s not a stone we don’t turn over.”

As Robbins notes, Weltman made similar comments leading up to last year’s draft. In that case, the Magic kept their lottery pick, but traded a couple of their other selections later in the draft.

Here’s more on the 2018 NBA draft:

  • The Nuggets‘ Monday workout with potential first-round pick Mitchell Robinson was canceled, according to an announcement from the team. No reason for the cancellation was provided.
  • Kentucky’s Wenyen Gabriel is working out for the Cavaliers today, then the Hornets on Tuesday, tweets Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com. Gabriel is a candidate to be drafted in the second round.
  • The Warriors continued to take a closer look at prospects on Monday, bringing in Jeffrey Carroll (Oklahoma State), Xavier Cooks (Winthrop), Ben Emelogu (SMU), Melvin Frazier (Tulane), Terry Larrier (UConn), and William Lee (UAB) for workouts (Twitter link via Mark Medina of The San Jose Mercury News).
  • Kerem Kanter, the younger brother of NBA veteran Enes Kanter, was in Oklahoma City on Monday to work out for the Thunder, writes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. The younger Kanter brother isn’t considered likely to be drafted.
  • Loyola-Chicago guard Donte Ingram is scheduled to work out for the Knicks on Tuesday, sources tell Ian Begley of ESPN.com.