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2017 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement – Deal Points

Here are the specific deal points to the now signed NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed this week and takes effect July, 1 2017.

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2017 NBA COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT – PRINCIPAL DEAL POINTS

The following is a summary of the principal changes made to the NBA/NBPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, per the NBA.  With limited exceptions, new CBA terms take effect on July 1, 2017.

I.    Term of Agreement

The new collective bargaining agreement will have a seven-year term covering the 2017-18 through 2023-24 seasons. Both the NBA and NBPA have the ability to opt out of the CBA after the 2022-23 season by providing notice to the other party by December 15, 2022.

II.    Key Unchanged Elements from the 2011 CBA

•    The players’ share of Basketball Related Income (BRI) will remain in the 49%-51% band.
•    The Salary Cap and Tax structure will remain the same, including the calculation of Cap/Tax Levels, use of Salary Cap Exceptions, Tax rates and transaction limits on teams over the Tax “Apron.”
•    The escrow system will remain the same.
•    Existing rules on maximum free agent contract length will be retained.
•    Restricted free agency will remain in place with certain process-related changes.

III.    System

A.    “Right-Sizing”

Certain System elements will be adjusted upward to maintain their relative position in the overall player compensation system, as set forth below:

•    Exception Amounts. The Mid-Level Exceptions and Bi-Annual Exception for 2017-18 will be increased 45% from the amounts in the 2011 CBA. The revised amounts will increase or decrease annually beginning in 2018-19 at the same rate as the Salary Cap.

•    Rookie Scale/Existing Rookie Scale Contracts. The Rookie Scale will also be increased 45%, with the increase phased in over three years. The Rookie Scale will increase or decrease annually beginning in 2018-19 at the same rate as the Salary Cap. As under the 2011 CBA, there will be a new Rookie Scale each season. Going forward, the Rookie Scale for a season will be issued prior to the start of the Moratorium Period for that season to reflect the increase or decrease in the Salary Cap from the prior season. Existing Rookie Scale contracts will be amended to reflect the 45% increase (phased in over the three-year period). The salary increases for existing Rookie Scale contracts will be funded collectively through a league-wide fund.

•    Minimum Annual Salary Scale. As with the Rookie Scale, there will be a new Minimum Annual Salary Scale issued each season prior to the Moratorium Period for contracts, including multi-year contracts, signed that season. The 2017-18 Minimum Annual Salary Scale will increase minimum salaries for that season by 45%. The revised amounts will increase or decrease annually beginning in 2018-19 at the same rate as the Salary Cap.

•    High-End Spending. In 2017-18, the Tax “Apron” – the amount above the Tax Level that cannot be exceeded by any team that uses the Non-Taxpayer Mid- Level Exception or Bi-annual Exception or acquires a free agent in a sign-and- trade – will be increased from $4M greater than the Tax Level to $6M greater than the Tax Level, and this $6M amount will increase or decrease annually beginning in 2018-19 at one-half the rate of the increase or decrease in the Salary Cap.

•    Maximum Annual Cash Limit in Trades. The 2017-18 limit on cash paid or received in trades will be increased from $3.6M to $5.1M, and this amount will increase or decrease annually beginning in 2018-19 at the same rate as the Salary Cap.

•    Annual Increases. The maximum annual salary increase/decrease for “Bird” players (7.5%) and other players (4.5%) will be increased to 8% and 5%, respectively.

B.    Extension/Player Retention Rules

1.    Veteran Extensions

•    Increased Extension Length. Veteran extensions (other than Designated Veteran Player Extensions as described below) will be permitted to cover five total years as follows: four new years if one year remains on the current contract, or three new years if two years remain on the current contract. (Under the 2011 CBA, veteran extensions may cover four total years.)

•    Waiting Period to Extend. A player whose contract (other than a Rookie Scale Contract) is a three- or four-year contract will be permitted to enter into a Veteran Extension no sooner than the second anniversary of the signing of the contract. (Under the 2011 CBA, a contract covering a term of three or fewer years may not be extended, and a four-year contract may not be extended until the third anniversary of the signing of the contract.) The waiting period for extending a 5-year contract will remain unchanged (third anniversary of the signing of the contract).

•    First-Year Salary. The maximum allowable salary in the first year of a Veteran Extension (other than a Designated Veteran Player Extension as described below) will be increased from 107.5% of the player’s salary in the last year of the original term of the contract to 120% of the greater of: (i) the player’s salary in the last year of the original term of the contract; or (ii) the estimated average player salary for the year in which the extension is signed.

•    Timing of Veteran Extensions. If a player and a team seek to enter into any Veteran Extension (other than a Designated Veteran Player Extension as described below) more than one year prior to the July 1 preceding the proposed first season of the extended term, then the extension may only be negotiated and signed during the off-season (i.e., from July 1 through the day prior to the first day of the regular season).

2.    Designated Veteran Player Extensions

a.    Eligibility and Contract Length

•    Years of Service and Performance Criteria. Players with one year or two years left on their contracts who have seven or eight years of service in the league and have never changed teams (other than, if applicable, by being traded during their first four seasons in the league), and who meet certain performance criteria (defined in section B.2.c below), will be eligible to negotiate a veteran extension covering six total years (five new years if one year remains on the current contract or four new years if two years remain on the current contract).

•    Waiting Period. Designated Veteran Player Extensions can be signed no sooner than the third anniversary of the signing of the contract.

•    Off-Season Signing Period. Designated Veteran Player Extensions can only be negotiated and signed during the off-season (i.e., from July 1 through the day prior to the first day of the regular season).

•    Maximum Allowable Number. A team cannot sign a player to a Designated Veteran Player Extension if at any point in time in a current or future year the team has or will have included in its Team Salary more than two contracts (i) extended pursuant to this section, and/or (ii) signed pursuant to section B.4 below.

b.    Salary

Designated Veteran Player Extensions will be required to provide for a first- year salary of at least 30% and no more than 35% of the Salary Cap (under the 2011 CBA, such players’ applicable maximum first-year salary is 30% of the Salary Cap).

c.    Performance-Based Criteria

For purposes of qualifying to negotiate for the Designated Veteran Player Extension described above or the maximum salary for certain free agents described in section B.4 below, a player will have to meet at least one of the following performance criteria at the time of signing:

•    the player was named to the All-NBA first, second, or third team, or was named Defensive Player of the Year, in the immediately preceding season or in two of the immediately preceding three seasons; or

•    the player was NBA MVP during one of the preceding three seasons.

Any player who is extended pursuant to these criteria (or signed as a free agent pursuant to section B.4 below) cannot be traded for one year from the date of signing.

For any player who previously met the Designated Veteran Player performance criteria, has not yet reached unrestricted free agency, and, but for signing a Veteran Extension in 2016-17 prior to the execution of the new CBA, could or would have been eligible to sign a Designated Veteran Player Extension or a free agent contract as a Designated Veteran Player during the term of the new CBA (beginning in 2017-18), the following rule will apply: such a player will be permitted, in the off-season after his 8th or 9th season (as applicable), to negotiate a Designated Veteran Player Extension, provided that the player meets the applicable eligibility rules (but for the extension in 2016-17) and performance criteria at the time the Designated Veteran Player Extension is signed.

3.    Rookie Scale Extensions

a.    Maximum Annual Salaries in Rookie Scale Extensions

The rule allowing a team and a player who meets certain performance criteria to negotiate a maximum salary of up to 30% of the Salary Cap in Rookie Scale Extensions (or certain free agent contracts) will remain in effect, but the performance criteria will be changed so as to be the same as the performance-based criteria described in section B.2.c above. In addition, for Rookie Scale Extensions where, at the time the extension is signed, the player has not already met the performance-based criteria, a team and player can agree upon various percentages of the Salary Cap (between 25% and 30%) based upon how and whether the player satisfies the criteria. For example, a team and player can agree that the player’s salary in the first season of the extended term will be 30% if the player wins the MVP award, or 27.5% if the player is named to the All-NBA first or second team in his fourth season.

b.    Designated Rookie Scale Player Extensions

The number of Designated Rookie Scale Player Extensions that a team can sign (and have included in its Team Salary at any point in time) will increase from one to two. A team will continue to be limited at any point in time to a total of two Designated Rookie Scale Player Extensions (one of which could be acquired by trade).

c.    Rookie Scale Extension Deadline

The deadline for entering into Rookie Scale Extensions will be changed from 11:59 p.m. (ET) on October 31 to 6:00 p.m. (ET) on the day prior to the first day of the regular season.

4.    Designated Veteran Player Free Agents

Free agents who have eight or nine years of service in the league who have never changed teams (other than, if applicable, being traded during their first four seasons in the league) and who meet certain performance-based criteria (defined in section B.2.c above) will be able to sign with their own team for a first- year salary of up to 35% of the Salary Cap (under the 2011 CBA, such players’ applicable maximum first-year salary is 30% of the Salary Cap). Under this provision, any contract that provides for a player’s salary to be more than 30% of the Salary Cap will be required to be a five-year contract. A team will not be permitted to sign a player to a Designated Veteran Player free agent contract if at any point in time the team has or will have included in its Team Salary more than two contracts (i) signed pursuant to this section, and/or (ii) extended pursuant to section B.2 above.

C.    Moratorium Period

The Moratorium Period has been shortened and will now end each season at noon (ET) on July 6.  The Salary Cap and Tax Level will be set each season by June 30.

D.    Restricted Free Agency

The following changes will be made to restricted free agency:

•    Match Period. The period for a team with a right of first refusal to match an Offer Sheet will be shortened from 3 days to 2 days.

•    Offer Sheets During the Moratorium Period.  A player will be able to sign an Offer Sheet during the Moratorium Period. A team holding a right of first refusal will have from the conclusion of the Moratorium Period until 11:59 p.m. (ET) on July 8 to match such an Offer Sheet.

•    Qualifying Offer Withdrawal Deadline. The July 23 deadline for a team to unilaterally withdraw a Qualifying Offer will be changed to July 13.

E.    Other Changes

1.    Additional Trade Rules

•    Traded Player Exception. The 150% Traded Player Exception for non- taxpaying teams will be increased to 175% (still subject to a limit of the salaries of the players being traded plus $5M).

•    Trade Exceptions/Protected Salary. For contracts entered into or extended beginning with the 2017-18 season: (i) in circumstances where a player’s salary protection is less than full, Traded Player Exceptions arising from the trade of such contracts will be calculated based upon the amount of the player’s protected salary in the applicable season (rather than the sum of the player’s protected salary and unprotected salary); and (ii) with respect to trades conducted following the last day of a regular season, Traded Player Exceptions will be limited to the amount of the player’s protected salary for the following season.

2.    Salary Cap Holds

•    Rookie Salary Cap Holds. Salary Cap holds for unsigned first round draft picks will be 120% of the player’s applicable Rookie Scale amount (increased from 100% under the 2011 CBA).

•    First Round Draft Picks. Beginning with the 2018-19 Salary Cap Year, Salary Cap holds for players finishing the second option year of their Rookie Scale Contract will be 250%/300% of the player’s prior salary if the player’s prior salary is above/below the average player salary (increased from 200%/250% under the 2011 CBA).

3.    Maximum Salaries

Maximum annual salaries will be calculated using the actual Salary Cap. (Under the 2011 CBA, a separate (lower) salary cap is used to calculate players’ individual maximum annual salaries.)

4.    Over-36 Rule

The Over-36 Rule will be modified to be an Over-38 Rule.

5.    Stretch

A team that elects to stretch a player’s salary for Salary Cap purposes will be not be allowed to re-sign or re-acquire the player prior to the July 1 following the last season of the player’s contract.

6.    Signing Restriction

If a team and player agree on a buyout of the player’s contract to reduce the amount of protected compensation in connection with the team requesting waivers on the player, the team will not subsequently be permitted to sign the player to a new contract (or claim the player off of waivers) before the later of one year following the contract termination or the July 1 following the last season of the player’s contract.

7.    NBA Minimum Roster

•    14-Player Rosters. Teams will be required to carry 14 players on their rosters, subject to the ability to carry fewer players for limited periods of time (under the 2011 CBA teams are generally required to carry 13 players).

•    Potential 15-Player Rosters.  If, beginning in the 2017-18 regular season, the league averages fewer than 14.5 players per team in any two consecutive seasons (not including Two-Way Players), then the above roster requirement would be increased to generally require teams to carry 15 players on their rosters beginning in the following season.

IV.    Player Development and Eligibility

A.    D-League:  Two-Way Contracts

•    Two-Way Contracts. Each NBA team will be permitted to have on its roster up to two players under “Two-Way Contracts.”  A “Two-Way Player” will provide services primarily to the NBA team’s D-League affiliate, and can be on the NBA team’s Active or Inactive List for up to 45 days during the NBA regular season, as well as on the NBA team’s roster prior to the start of D-League training camp (including during NBA training camp) and after the conclusion of the D-League regular season.

•    Exclusive Rights. During the term of a Two-Way Contract, a Two-Way Player will be eligible to sign a standard NBA contract only with his current team.

•   Right to “Convert”. A Two-Way Player’s team will have the right to “convert” the Two-Way Contract during its term to a standard NBA contract at the player’s applicable minimum salary and for the same term.

•    Transition Rule. Until all NBA teams have a one-to-one affiliation with a D- League team, a process similar to the current “flexible assignment” process will be used to determine the placement in the D-League of Two-Way Players who are signed by NBA teams that do not have a one-to-one affiliation with a D- League team.

B.    Career Opportunities for Former Players

A D-League apprenticeship program will be established in the league office and with D-League team coaching staffs to provide business and basketball operations training for former NBA players.  In addition, a D-League assistant coach program will be established to provide additional coaching training and experience for former NBA players.

V.    Scheduling

A.    Training Camp, Pre-Season, and Regular Season Schedule

The period for training camp and the pre-season will be shortened by 7 days, and the maximum number of exhibition games per team prior to any regular season will be reduced to 6 (from 8). The regular season will be played over approximately 177 days (rather than 170 days).

B.    Days Off

The number of days off that teams provide players during the Regular Season will increase to 18 (from 16).

V.    Player Benefits

The agreement includes significant enhancements to player pension, health, and other benefits. Among other things, beginning this season and for the term of the new CBA, the NBA will equally fund with the Players Association, outside of the players’ share of BRI, the cost of a new health insurance plan and increased pension benefits for eligible currently-retired players who helped pave the way for the game’s current popularity and success.

VI.    Anti-Drug Program

A.    Testing

Baseline levels of testosterone will be established for each player to increase the accuracy of testing for performance-enhancing substances.

B.    Penalties

Penalties will increase for positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs – a 25- game suspension for a first violation (from 20 games) and a 55-game suspension for a second violation (from 45 games). A third positive test will continue to result in the player’s expulsion from the NBA.

VII.    Domestic Violence Policy

A comprehensive policy will be put in place that includes, among other things, education, support, treatment, referrals, counseling, and other resources.

VIII.    BRI

Changes will be made to the BRI calculation and to the BRI audit process that include, among other things: (i) adjusting certain BRI inclusion and deduction rules; (ii) resolving recurring BRI audit open items; and (iii) clarifying and updating audit procedures.

IX.    Group Licensing

The Group License Agreement will terminate following the 2016-17 season. There will be a transition period through September 2017.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

Bobby Krivitsky

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

Drew Maresca

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?

Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.

Matt John

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Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.

It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.

We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.

The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.

If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.

In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.

TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be

Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.

Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.

For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.

There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.

That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.

Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.

Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.

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