Here is the question the Indiana Pacers need to answer as they weigh whether to keep back-up point guard T.J. McConnell or push him out the door – would you rather pay him $3.5 million to help you win, or pay him $1 million to help another team win?
It’s just that simple, and it makes keeping McConnell the easiest decision facing the Pacers front office during what will likely be a manic offseason, once the agreement to start the season on December 22 is finalized.
McConnell’s contract calls for him to earn the $3.5M for the 2020-2021 season unless the Pacers waive him, which would come with a $1M price tag. There are a variety of pieces that the Pacers could shift via trade, and a tough decision to re-sign or part ways with free agent Justin Holiday needs to be made. But McConnell’s productivity, popularity, and cost makes keeping a no-brainer.
There are a litany of reasons to keep McConnell. Here are six:
- Great court vision. There are few back-up point guards who see the floor as McConnell does. If a teammate makes a smart cut, he is rewarded with the ball in the spot where he can score it. McConnell averaged five assists in just over 18 minutes last year. He had an assist to turnover ratio of almost four-to-one. Those are gaudy numbers for a back-up point guard.
- Sneaky scorer. While shooting from deep is not a strength, McConnell is a competent driver of the basketball, and relatively productive midrange scorer (10-16 feet). He averaged 12.6 points per 36 minutes last season, and that’s relatively productive compared to Aaron Holiday (14 points/36 minutes).
- Coach on the floor and bench. McConnell is very generous with guidance. I’m not certain the level at which McConnell’s counsel is received because I’m not on the bench, but there is rarely a timeout when McConnell doesn’t pull a teammate aside for a few words of encouragement or wisdom.
- Enthusiasm for the game. This is not a trait for which people should earn millions, or NBA teams would hire fans to sit on the end of the bench, but McConnell is relentlessly upbeat at practice and during games. That helps make the long NBA schedule a little more fun for teammates.
- New coach who has never done it. Nate Bjorkgren needs allies and emissaries during his first foray as an NBA head coach. According to those who have spent time around Bjorkgren in Toronto, he is an excellent communicator, but communication requires reception and interpretation. Having a guy like McConnell around to advise and consent might be an asset for Bjorkgren.
- Fans love him. Again, not a reason to pay a basketball player millions of dollars, but McConnell’s vibe and style connects with Pacers fans, and this franchise needs players that energizes the crowds at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – assuming they are allowed at any point this season.
So, again, the question is – should the Simons write McConnell a check for $3.5M to bring all that to the team, or a check for 1M to take it somewhere else?
Keeping McConnell is a no-brainer.