Pacers guard Victor Oladipo isn’t set to reach free agency until the 2021 offseason, but now that he has been ruled out for the remainder of the 2019/20 season, he’ll likely be entering a contract year the next time we see him on the court. As a result, there has been increased speculation as of late about his long-term future.
As J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star details, that speculation only figures to increase following Oladipo’s decision to sit out the NBA restart. Although Oladipo is considered to be sidelined for injury reasons, meaning he won’t forfeit his remaining salary, the two-time All-Star made the decision and announced it himself without giving the Pacers a heads-up.
As Michael notes, the Pacers consider themselves a player-friendly organization and have given Oladipo the leeway to make such decisions — he also announced his return date from his torn quad tendon in January. On top of that, Michael points out that Oladipo was always expected to test the free agent market in 2021 rather than signing an early extension with Indiana, since that will give him the opportunity to maximize his earnings.
A pair of league sources tell The Indianapolis Star that Oladipo will be prioritizing two things in free agency: The most money possible and the chance to compete for championships. The Pacers, who will hold Oladipo’s Bird rights, will be in position to offer him more money and more years than any rival suitor, so if he feels good about the club’s chances to make deep postseason runs, Indiana should be in the driver’s seat to re-sign him.
Still, Oladipo may consider other options. If he does, Michael suggests that the Knicks aren’t the most logical landing spot, despite the presence of Oladipo’s former agent Leon Rose in the front office. According to Michael, the “strongest preliminary indication” is that the Heat would be the biggest threat to sign Oladipo.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard the Heat linked to Oladipo. Miami is expected to have cap room available in 2021 and president Pat Riley intends to go star-hunting. Giannis Antetokounmpo has frequently been cited as the team’s No. 1 target, but if Giannis re-ups with the Bucks, Oladipo could emerge as Miami’s top priority. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported last month that the Heat have “made it known” they intend to pursue both Antetokounmpo and Oladipo in 2021, if possible.
As Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald details, there would be a number of cap obstacles to overcome if the Heat try to land both players, particularly given the uncertain impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the salary cap going forward. But as we saw when they acquired Jimmy Butler last summer, the Heat have shown a willingness to get creative with sign-and-trades to a acquire a maximum-salary player even when they don’t have the cap room to sign him outright.
We’re still a year away from Oladipo reaching the open market, and plenty could happen between now and then to shift the outlook of his free agency — he’ll need to look like his old self in 2020/21 to even be assured of maximum-salary offers, for instance. For now though, based on Michael’s report and others, it sounds like the Pacers are preparing to have to ward off the Heat to retain their 28-year-old star.