The 2015 Free Agents: With the 2014-15 NBA season now firmly on tap with the release of the regular season schedule yesterday, there are somethings to think about in regards to next season, especially as it pertains to free agency.
As currently constructed, there are 245 players that have uncertain status beyond the current season. This includes 59 players with team options, which are usually picked up, especially for first round draft picks. There are 41 players who can be issued qualifying offers and have their free agency restricted. There are 30 players with player options for free agency; a large number of those are likely to be exercised in order to secure new long-term deals. Thirty four players have some level of non-guaranteed money owed them beyond the upcoming season. Seventy nine players look poised to be unrestricted free agents barring an extension during the season. There are just two players with early termination options.
There are some notable names to know regarding next year’s free agents class, here are just a few of them:
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers – $20,644,400 (option worth $21.57M)
While the conspiracy theorists want to make a big deal out of James’ decision to sign a short-term deal, what he has done is given himself repeated options to cash in. More importantly, it ensures the power stays on his side of the equation.
The plan for James is to re-sign as frequently as possible and stay on the top end of his earning potential. This was discussed with the Cavaliers and they are fully on board, so discussing James as a free agent next year is unrealistic unless things go massively bad.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves – $15,719,062 (option worth $16.744M)
It is commonly believed that the Timberwolves and Cavaliers will trigger a trade sending Love to the Cavs on our about August 23. There have also been reports that Love and the Cavs have had some level of contract discussions about what it would take to re-sign him going forward. The plan for Love is to opt out of his remaining $16.74 million contract year and sign a new max level deal in July; such a deal would likely be worth $120 plus million over five years. NBA teams are not permitted to make future contract agreements with players in Love’s situation, however knowing a player wants a max level deal and agreeing that something like that is workable is not the same as hammering out a completed contract. Love’s potential trade to the Cavaliers is likely going to be scrutinized heavily, mainly because it’s been characterized that the Cavs and Love have a firm commitment in place, something both sides are likely going to deny wholeheartedly. It is important to note that there can be nothing binding between Love and the Cavaliers beyond the terms of his existing contract, so there is a small window to consider Love in free agency, but it’s likely to be a very small one if there is any shot at all.
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics – $12,909,090
The Celtics have a dilemma. They seem to be open to keeping Rajon Rondo long-term, but unless he would sign a contract extension – something he is highly unlikely to do – he is poised to be an unrestricted free agent in July.
If the Celtics cannot get a sense of commitment from Rondo beyond this year, they have to trade him or risk losing him for nothing in return.
Rondo is considered the top obtainable free agent in the 2015 free agent class and he is likely going to command a max level, or near max level contract.
It seem inevitable that Rondo is going to be traded, the question is what’s the return going to be for Boston, especially when it’s more likely than not that Rondo explores his options in July?
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers – $16,256,000
Two seasons ago it seemed like a foregone conclusion that LaMarcus would be leaving Portland. Today it seems unlikely that he won’t be back on a new long term deal in July. Aldridge has said repeatedly that his intention in July is to sign a new max contract with the Trail Blazers.
Like all potential unrestricted free agents, there is risk for Portland, but given that both sides of this have a very open dialogue going, it’s unlikely that Aldridge isn’t back in Portland. But, this one will linger, and Aldridge’s name is going to come up a lot even though it’s unlikely he’s going anywhere.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies – $15,829,688
The odds that Marc Gasol is not in Memphis next year are fairly small. The Grizzlies are going to pay Gasol the max level money he’ll command; unfortunately, like Love, in order for Gasol to get all that’s available he’ll have to hit free agency in July.
Gasol could sign an extension, but that would leave money on the table as he is now eligible for 30 percent of the upcoming salary cap projected to be $66 million. Doing the math, that’s a starting salary next year in the $19.8 million range, wherein an extension would be based on a minor increase on his $15.82 million salary this year.
There is always a risk of losing a player whenever they can hit unrestricted free agency, but the sense from Gasol and the Grizzlies is that as long as a max offer is there in June, he’ll re-sign.
Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets – $7,500,000 (option worth $7.5M)
It is extremely likely that Afflalo will opt out of his deal in Denver this summer. Afflalo has steadily improved over the last two seasons and hopes to put an All-Star caliber season together this year in Denver.
It is possible that Denver explores Afflalo’s trade value given that he is likely going to command a deal at the top end of his range ($10-$12 million per season). That may be too rich for Denver’s liking.
In terms of potentially available players, Afflalo looks to be one of them.
Jeff Green, Boston Celtics – $9,200,000 (option worth $9.20m)
The Celtics have had trade talks regarding Jeff Green for almost two years. With the Celtics poised to have what looks to be a sub-par season there is a strong chance that Green is packed into any trade involving the aforementioned Rondo.
Green has the option to hit free agency. Assuming he plays well this season, the odds are good that he’ll opt-out and re-sign in a situation of his choosing and trade his remaining $9.2 million in for a longer term deal.
Luol Deng, Miami HEAT – $9,714,461 (option worth $10.15M)
Deng turned down a multi-year extension with the Bulls last season valued at roughly $10 million a season, prompting his trade to the Cavaliers. After a ho-hum showing in Cleveland, Deng got considerable attention as a free agent but did not command that upper tier money his camp expected after several All-Star appearances.
Deng needs to have a strong season in Miami if he hopes to cash in. The structure of his deal with the HEAT allows for him to opt-out in July, something he will likely do if he can out-play his contract.
Deng is a 50/50 candidate for free agency in July. Those odds go up if he returns to All-Star form.
David West, Indiana Pacers – $12,000,000 (option worth $12.6M)
West’s deal with the Pacers seemed like the twilight deal; he’d play out the deal make a couple of runs at a championship, however with Paul George out for the season and the Pacers in something of disarray as a result, there is a belief that West might get traded at some point this season. The prevailing thought on the Pacers is that they will open camp and make a go of it and see what they have. If the team starts to fall off, then changes and significant trades are likely.
West will turn 34 this month, so he’s not exactly a spring chicken, but with this year and a player option year left on his deal, he may be more attractive to teams with championship aspirations. It’s possible that West opts-out of his final year, especially if he is traded to an unfavorable destination. If the Pacers hang on to him, or he is traded to a contender it’s unlikely that anyone is going to offer more than $12.6 million for West. However, there is always the chance that West trades in his final $12.6 million in exchange for a few more guaranteed years in the NBA.
Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks – $9,500,000
There is no doubting that Paul Millsap outplayed his contract last year. The problem for the Hawks is much like Marc Gasol and Kevin Love, the only way for Millsap to reset the finances is to hit unrestricted free agency. This becomes a problem for Atlanta, mainly because that means potentially losing him for little or nothing in return.
Given that Millsap recently choose Atlanta in free agency and that he’s had success there, they may have the inside trade on keeping him, but with so many teams expected to have cap space can the Hawks risk losing such a solid asset?
That’s going to be the question they have to debate this season and one of the reasons the Hawks have been linked to so many trade scenarios.
Millsap looks to be one of the better free agent options in July and unfortunately for the Hawks there is not a lot they can do about it, given where Millsap’s contract is currently priced.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets – $15,719,062 (option worth $16.74M)
It is highly likely that Lopez opts-out of his existing deal, even with the chronic foot injuries he has endured. When healthy Lopez is one of the top centers in the game and with just one-year left on his deal he likely opts for the chance at a new payday and long-term security, even if that means re-upping in Brooklyn.
Like many of the other potential free agents, this puts the Nets on the clock on a number of fronts. There is the threat that Lopez could walk away and the question of what is he really worth in trade?
If Lopez can pick up where he left off before the injury last year there is a really good chance he could be one of the more coveted free agents in the 2015 free agent class and he might be obtainable too.
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers – $14,898,938 (option worth $15.51M)
Like Lopez, Hibbert has a decision coming up. The problem with Hibbert is he hasn’t exactly played up to his contract, but elite level big men are hard to find and they are usually overpaid.
There has been some talk that the Pacers would entertain trading Hibbert, although Pacers sources were pretty adamant that was not the case, but with the Pacers’ season is very much up in the air and the risk that Hibbert could opt-out and walk away means the Pacers have to explore their options, especially with the gruesome Paul George leg injury.
Like most players with one year remaining on their deal, it’s likely Hibbert forgoes $15.51 million in exchange for more long-term money. The question is who invests in him given his production as of late?
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers – $11,440,123
Like Paul Millsap, Jordan has outplayed his current contract. It’s very likely that DeAndre re-signs in LA with the Clippers on a new max level, or near max level contract. This is where the depths of the new Clippers ownership’s pockets is going to pay off.
Like all potential unrestricted free agents, Jordan could walk away, but considering the Clippers will put the money on the table and the success the team has had as currently constructed, the odds that Jordan hits the market in a real way are slim. The problem is that he has to hit free agency to get the raise his camp is seeking. So, there is risk for the Clippers, but all sides have been fairly clear they want the marriage to continue.
Robin Lopez, Portland Trail Blazers – $6,124,729
Like Millsap and Jordan, Lopez has outplayed his contract, which means he too will likely have to hit unrestricted free agency in July in order to get his contract re-set on par with his performance. This poses some risk for the Blazers, but all indications are that both sides want to continue to the relationship. It’s simply going to cost the Blazers more than the $6.1 million Lopez is set to earn.
Al Jefferson, Charlotte Hornets – $13,500,000 (option worth $13.5M)
Like Millsap it’s very possible that Jefferson opts-out of his deal simply to cash in under new terms. Given the success Jefferson has had in Charlotte, it seems unlikely that he’d leave, but whenever a player hits unrestricted free agency there is risk.
Jefferson recently chosing Charlotte in free agency bodes well for a new long-term deal, however with Jefferson’s season last year he might be in line for a hefty new deal and that becomes a question mark for the Hornets on whether they’ll go to near max for a player who will turn 30 this season.
If Jefferson posts another All-Star worthy campaign like last season, the odds are very good he’s hitting free agency in July, if only to cash in again.
Notable Extension Eligible Players
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves – $4,660,479 (Qualifying Offer $6,179,795)
The Wolves and Rubio have been talking for most of the summer. As you can imagine Rubio’s camp has some substantial leverage given the Love situation and they are seeking a max deal for Ricky. The Wolves and Rubio have until October 31, as do all of the players and teams listed below, to reach an extension and it seems like the might.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors – $3,075,880 (Qualifying Offer $4,210,880)
Thompson was talked about a lot this summer as someone the Warriors were unwilling to part with. The question becomes is he someone the Warriors are willing to pay? Both sides have had some contract talks and that discussion is expected to pick up steam as training camps get closer. There has been a lot of talk that Thompson is seeking a near max level extension and that seems unlikely given the $12 million Steph Curry earns. It is likely that Thompson and the Warriors do not reach a deal before the deadline, unless he comes off his asking price. Restricted free agency seems more likely, especially with all the changes the team has made on the coaching front.
Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks – $3,553,917 (Qualifying Offer $4,790,680)
It is unlikely that the Bucks and Knight reach an extension unless it’s a landslide in Milwaukee’s favor. Both sides have talked and the Bucks say they want to keep him so a deal is very possible. It’s going to come down to the math and that may not get decided until this summer.
Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets – $2,249,768 (Qualifying Offer $3,257,664)
Its not out of the question that the Nuggets and Faried reach an extension, it just unlikely. Word is Faried wants a monster contract and while he has shown some moments that might justify it, his body of work is not on par with the near max money his side is said to be seeking. Faried’s situation likely gets resolved in restricted free agency if he is not traded first. His name has been kicked around a lot in trade scenarios.
Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic – $2,380,594 (Qualifying Offer $3,394,727)
Harris’ camp wants a new deal this summer and the Magic have agreed to talk about the subject, but given where Orlando is at in their rebuild committing a huge number to Harris seems unlikely. Although, there is a sense that if the Magic make a reasonable market-based offer, Harris might take it.
Word is Harris is atop a number of team’s wish list, so if the Magic don’t want to pay him this summer, there is a strong chance he gets a sizable offer sheet next summer.
The Magic would be bidding against themselves in a deal now, so it’s unlikely an extension gets reached, but it does seem like Harris’ camp is open to one if the Magic will come with the right kind of offer.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – $2,894,059 (Qualifying Offer $4,045,894)
Can you say max offer? That’s what it’s going to take to get Kawhi Leonard signed this summer and that number seems a little unlikely considering the only player the Spurs have ever given the max to was Tim Duncan. That’s not to say that the reigning Finals MVP isn’t worth it, especially consider what guys like Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons got.
Both sides seem open to a deal, the question becomes for how much? Even if Leonard gets to free agency in July, its fair more likely that the Spurs match offers than let him go, the question is do the Spurs want that in their locker room this year? The Spurs cap position allows them a lot of room with regards to Leonard and his eventual payday. Do they lock him in now or does it have to play out next summer?
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic – $2,751,260 (Qualifying Offer $3,865,520)
Like Harris, the Magic are talking extension with Vucevic, and also like Harris the Magic are in essence bidding against themselves. There is a chance that a deal gets reached this summer to start locking in core pieces, but given that Orlando doesn’t have to set a price today, there is a bigger chance that both Vucevic and Harris hit restricted free agency and let the market place set their price after seeing what both contribute in a season that should be about winning games.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Goga Bitadze and Pacers assistant coach Greg Foster got into a heated discussion.
Myles Turner and multiple other players got involved to attempt to break up the confrontation. pic.twitter.com/9Xr96HmJg8
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 6, 2021
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
Report: Mike D’Antoni ‘leader in the clubhouse’ to become the next Pacers head coach https://t.co/42Ik5nPTyU
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) May 6, 2021
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.