by Kent Sterling
The Indiana Pacers have a young nucleus that will allow consistent pursuit of 50+ win seasons and potential trips to the NBA Finals for years to come. The draft and free agent periods will help provide the depth that was so lacking during the Eastern Conference Finals a month ago, and the seemingly narrow ditch between the Pacers and Heat can close.
Owner Herb Simon, or “Herbie” if you’re team president Larry Bird, allowed the Pacers to spend $66 million of his money on player salaries last season, and the team has $49 million currently committed for next year, including the $7 million in qualifying offer situations with Tyler and Ben Hansbrough, and Jeff Pendergraff, which will bring the total down to $42M.
The salary cap is expected to be $58.5 million, but the more important number is the luxury tax threshold cap that is approximated to be $71.5. The Pacers will exceed the cap, but will under no circumstance as a small market team start paying the NBA money on top of what the spend on players because they overreach on free agents beyond the luxury cap mark.
That leaves roughly $24 million to spend on lone draft pick Solomon Hill and free agents. The first priority is getting power forward David West signed to a new deal. He’ll be 33 next month, so West’s best days are behind him, and that should mean it’s unlikely he’ll draw offers beyond the two years at $10 million per year deal that just elapsed. Assuming that $10M plus the mostly insignificant $1.2 millionish for Hill, Indiana is left with $12.8 million for the four remaining roster spots.
There is also the decision to be made on an extension for Lance Stephenson, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this coming season. There is also the serious need to lock down Paul George after 2014-2015. An extension signed now would likely bring down the cost for seasons following 2015.
Another call to be made by the rested and ready Larry Legend is what to do with Danny Granger. He’s a free agent after next year, and the Pacers will almost certainly allow Granger to walk or trade him to recoup the $14 million Granger will collect next season.
Bird can choose to deal Granger for $12-$16 million worth of players, or he can use Granger for what he’s worth during the season and then reap the rewards of the $14M in dead money. Either way, the Pacers future is bright moving forward as long as George is securely a Pacer.
They need a back up point guard, a scorer who can also defend (wouldn’t that be nice), and neither can be an ass who will booger up the culture the Pacers have worked so hard to create. The names are all over the place from C.J. Watson to Nate Robinson to former Pacer Jarrett Jack to O.J. Mayo.
My guidance, which is rarely sought by Bird, is to run from any potential deal for Mayo. He has always played by a different set of rules – all the way back to when he was a sixth grader. The Dallas Mavericks picked him up for last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2000. It would be as ridiculous to lay all of the blame for that mediocrity on Mayo as assign none of it to him.
The Pacers almost got Mayo in a trade deadline deal with Memphis a couple of years ago, but reportedly faxed the paperwork to the NBA office one minute late. That’s called serendipity, and proves that sometimes the best deals are those you don’t make. I like to believe that the Pacers knew the trade was a turd-in-waiting and doused it by holding the fax.
There are other names like soon-to-be 32 years old Jose Calderon, who would present challenges from a financial standpoint, but would fit what the Pacers like like to do and how they like to do it.
With the core of the team under contract, West likely to return, and the front office set, the Pacers hold a lot of good cards as they try to find a way to take the leap forward necessary to close the gap on the Miami Heat.