Offseason In Review: Indiana Pacers

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.



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Waiver Claims

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Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

After a campaign that saw their win total decrease from 56 in 2013/14 to 38 last season, the Pacers entered the offseason with the goal of assembling a younger, faster team, which resulted in a number of major changes for the franchise. While Indiana’s struggles of a season ago were certainly influenced by Paul George missing all but five contests courtesy of a leg injury suffered during a Team USA scrimmage, the team’s roster was aging and not meshing together as well as team president Larry Bird had hoped, and it was looking more and more like the franchise had passed its window to contend.

Phase one of Bird’s roster revamp was to find a taker for lumbering big man Roy Hibbert, whose decision to exercise his player option for 2015/16 worth in excess of $15.514MM could have spelled doom for any chance the team had at making significant offseason changes. Bird found a willing trade partner in the Lakers, whose interest convinced Hibbert to waive part of the 15% trade kicker included in his contract. “In the long run, it was a no-brainer,” Hibbert said to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. “If I were to say I wanted my $2MM and the trade couldn’t get done, I would have been back in Indy and wouldn’t have gotten that $2MM anyway. I would have had to basically fight an uphill battle just to try and get on the court. Hopefully I can make that [money] up in the long run if I do well.” The center gave back all but $78,185 of what otherwise would have been a $2.3MM payout.

The departure of Hibbert may have cost the team its chance of retaining veteran power forward David West, who cited the Pacers’ handling of Hibbert as one of the reasons he opted out of his deal to become an unrestricted free agent. “That’s one thing where I wish they would have handled better was the situation with Roy,” West had said to Bob Kravitz of WTHR-TV in Indianapolis after joining the Spurs. “I’ll be honest with you, that bothered me a little bit, and I told Roy that. I’m the type of guy who feels like we’re all in this fight together and I’m not designed in that way to put it all on one guy. That did rub me the wrong way. That threw me off. I started reading some of that stuff, I started thinking, ‘Whoaa.’ I just didn’t feel good about that. I told Roy that it bothered me, that he’s still my teammate.”
With the departures of two key pieces of their previous season’s rotation, the Pacers moved on and signed veteran shooting guard Monta Ellis, who at the age of 30, became the oldest player on Indiana’s newly revamped roster. This signing is a bit risky from Indiana’s standpoint. A four-year deal, including a player option for the final season, is longer than I’d be comfortable agreeing to, seeing as Ellis is essentially a one-dimensional player whose skills likely won’t hold up as each subsequent birthday passes. The average annual value of $10.995MM for Ellis’ deal is certainly reasonable, especially considering the expected spike in player salaries beginning in 2016/17, but it’s a contract that has the potential to become an overpay by years three and four if the guard’s athleticism and skills are sapped by Father Time, who to this day remains undefeated. The addition of Ellis feels like a stopgap from my perspective, and though talented, Ellis is now with his third team in four years. That’s not necessarily a ringing endorsement of his value as a roster asset in my book.
The franchise’s other moves in free agency were relatively solid, with Indiana re-signing Lavoy Allen, Rodney Stuckey and Shayne Whittington to reasonable contracts, though a three-year deal for Stuckey is a year too long in my opinion. The Pacers also went outside the organization and nabbed former Lakers big man Jordan Hill on a one-year, $4MM deal, which is an excellent value for the club that carries little to no risk thanks to the pact’s short length. The offseason move that Bird appeared to be the most excited about though was the addition of free agent Glenn Robinson III, a player the executive said he had been trying to acquire for over a year.
The Pacers’ goal of getting younger, smaller and more athletic was also on display during the 2015 draft, when the team used its first round pick to select Texas big man Myles Turner. He had a difficult freshman season at the University of Texas, where he was a poor fit for the Longhorns’ system, and his draft stock took a hit as a result. Turner is an athletic big who can light it up from deep when he’s on, and he has the potential to be a solid stretch-four in the league for years to come. Indiana’s draft day would have been a success if Turner were the only takeaway, but the addition of Oregon combo guard Joe Young was the best pick in the entire second round of the draft. Young is a versatile scorer who will contribute immediately, with his strong preseason showing earning him the nod as the team’s backup point guard. It was an excellent draft for the Pacers all around, as the team nabbed two long-term rotation players plus Rakeem Christmas through a trade with the Cavs.
Indiana also demonstrated its commitment to player development this offseason with the purchase of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the D-League, finally giving the team its own affiliate. Owning the Mad Ants will give the Pacers a notable advantage because the affiliate is only about two hours away, opined Scott Agness of, a stance I agree with. The franchise took into account the rising salaries of NBA players, as Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star noted. Owner Herb Simon said that the Pacers will need young players to go along with the higher-paid players on the roster in the future, and that those young players would need development, which the purchase of the Mad Ants will help facilitate.
The other significant storyline of the offseason involved player movement, but not of the free agent or trade variety. Instead, it’s the position switch for George, whom the Pacers asked to move from the wing into the power forward slot to aid in the team’s new small-ball philosophy. George had voiced some displeasure with the the team’s plan, though he did say that he’s willing to stick with it. “I don’t know if I’m cut out for a four spot,” George said after Indiana’s preseason opener, according to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star (All Twitter links). “I don’t know if this is my position.” George also implied that he wasn’t the only Pacer unhappy with the strategy. “It’s not just myself,” he said. “The four other guys out there, it’s an adjustment for them. We’re all talking… A couple other guys are uncomfortable with how we’re going to run it. It’s new to everyone.” While the early returns from the position switch have been mixed, it’s a situation that certainly bears watching as the team moves forward. It’s never a positive when a team’s best player is unhappy, and if George continually feels overmatched at the four spot, it could spell trouble on the horizon for the front office and coaching staff. That said, George isn’t as apprehensive as he initially was and won’t be guarding traditional power forwards, as Buckner told us in Friday’s edition of The Beat.
Indiana is a franchise in the midst of a transitional period, and it’s quite possible that the Pacers will need to bottom out before returning to prominence in the East. With $57.230MM in guaranteed salary on the books for 2016/17, Indiana will have the ability to add at least one impact free agent to the mix, though the franchise is still not viewed around the league as an attractive free agent destination, making it difficult to gauge just whom the Pacers will set their sights on next offseason. But for now, the team is certainly younger, smaller and faster. From that perspective, the offseason can be called a success, but the team isn’t likely to be better than the squad that went to two straight Conference Finals.

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

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