The Pacers Have Some Big Questions
As the curtain came down on the Indiana Pacers’ 2017 NBA season, no one kept quiet about the elephant in the room, and that’s the future of star forward Paul George.
No sooner than when George had toweled off and got dressed was he was hit with questions about his team and his future as a Pacer—a subject he wouldn’t really address with any certainty or confidence.
George has one more fully guaranteed year left on his deal and enters an offseason where he is more likely to be traded than not, especially if you listen to people around the situation. George has enjoyed his time as a Pacer, but like many star players before him, he realizes that the Pacers simply won’t have the chance to compete for a title anytime soon and that signing on long-term is less desirable, especially if he does not make an All-NBA team this season.
The labor deal between the NBA and its players kicks in on July 1 and can give the Pacers an almost $40 million advantage in keeping George if he makes any of the All-NBA teams this year, but that seem increasingly unlikely when you run through the likely All-NBA candidates. George is close, but when you consider that Cleveland’s LeBron James, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Draymond Green likely get the first two team’s forward spots in a walk. That leaves two chairs on the Third Team that likely go to Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis. Davis is the one that could swing either way, but it gets tough to envision George getting a spot. That’s especially true when you consider that Utah’s Gordon Hayward may get some consideration, as well. Does George beat out Davis? How about Hayward? What about Paul Millsap and Jimmy Butler? All of this means the Pacers may lose their financial advantage in keeping George long-term on a new Designated Veteran Extension.
Also, keep in mind that the All-NBA awards will be part of the NBA’s first awards show in New York, which will take place Monday, June 26. This is also after the 2017 NBA Draft. As George’s future will have far-reaching ramifications, it may be in the Pacers best interest to have a discussion with him sooner rather than later. The team could end up in the unenviable predicament of having to make a decision on George before knowing whether he made an All-NBA team and whether the additional money would be material.
Unless you lived in a basketball cave around the NBA Trade Deadline, you know that teams called the Pacers aggressively about acquiring George via trade and that ultimately, the Pacers opted to stay the course. Sources close to that process said the Pacers never seriously entertained anything with George, but teams called and the Pacers did the courtesy of listening, briefly.
So now we get to this offseason.
Pacers president and team leader Larry Bird is entering the final year of his contract and it’s believed he is one of the top names on the Orlando Magic’s wish list as team president. Bird has long had an open-ended agreement with the Pacers ownership and given his deep ties and roots in Indiana, it’s hard to imagine he’d leave, but it is a factor.
The Pacers are going to need to understand George’s plan. Sources close to the process admit that emotions were raw right after being swept, but George had likely played his last game as a Pacer, the writing was on the wall.
Clearly, the Pacers want to get some distance between the emotions of being swept before talking about the future, but a glance at the Pacers roster going forward does not look promising.
Point guard Jeff Teague is a pending free agent. He has repeatedly said he’d like to be back, given his own Indiana ties, but he’s not going back cheaply. League sources peg Teague’s next deal in the $15-$17 million year range, and possibly more if other point guards opt to stay where they are, making Teague one of the top free agent guards.
George has one more guaranteed year on his deal, but watching how woefully outmatched the Pacers were against the Cavaliers, is there anything on the roster besides Teague, George, and second-year big man Myles Turner worth building around? Thaddeus Young has been good, not great. Players like C.J. Miles and Monta Ellis have not been difference makers.
The Pacers face a tough offseason, and it’s more likely than not that the end answer is that George should be traded before he walks away for nothing in return. If George is traded, then the Pacers would have to determine whether re-signing Teague would be worth the money he’ll likely command in free agency.
If the whole thing in Indiana is coming apart, would Bird stick around and skipper the rebuild?
There is no question the Pacers are facing a tough offseason filled with tough decisions. For a team that has been pretty drama free, things will get interesting for sure and that could change the balance of power for a number of teams if the Pacers start a wholesale tear down.
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