May 30, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel at a press conference before game six of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana Pacers: Free Agency Begins, Time To Retool?

This is usually a dead period for the Indiana Pacers.  That’s unarguable, as they’re never the ultimate destinations for LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, or any franchise changing superstar.

The most you hear about Larry Bird and the Naptown boys is the re-signing of current roster members, and the premature granting of $90 million to Paul George.


May 26, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) reacts during a timeout against the Miami Heat in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, of course, Indiana fell victims to a desert death.  Phoenix burned them in a trade — which was actually appealing for the Pacers at the time.  Luis Scola found his way to Indiana, while the Suns received the athletic luminary in Gerald Green, as well as Miles Plumlee and a lottery-protected first round pick.

Looking back now, that trade has a horrible stench to it.  Gerald Green became an offensive monster for Jeff Hornacek once he received minutes, and Miles Plumlee played better, more determined basketball than Scola.  Of all places, the Western Conference guys started blossoming.  Phoenix clearly won that trade, in retrospect.

Re-signing Paul George was also a must last offseason, but was Larry Bird too quick to offer him max money off one great playoff run?  An Eastern Conference Finals (2013) in which he came up small in the deciding Game 7?

This July and August, it’s completely different.

Bird told the media this week that they’re focused on “staying the course.”  He also shut down any questions about a possible trade involving Roy Hibbert, claiming he was committed to the Pacers’ “core.”

The huge question remains whether or not point guard George Hill is a member of that precious core, since his lack of floor general ability cost the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals this May.  Well, a collection of little things — like, maybe, putting the ball in the basket — robbed the Pacers this year.  But, Hill is near the very bottom if you had to rank all starting point guards in the league, because he can’t take it upon himself to set guys up, or develop any creative offense when the Pacers desperately need a score.


Mar 21, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) sits on the bench during the fourth quarter of a game against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. The Nets defeated the Celtics 114-98. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s actually sad to watch, because they’re so far behind the top championship caliber teams offensively.  Thus, even when they believe the No. 1 seed gives them a shot at a title …. they never really had a chance.

Setting up a trade involving George Hill, who’s under contract past the 2015 season, should be near the top on the priority list.  If you can package enough with this less-talented roster (that’s easier said than done) in order to get Rajon Rondo from Boston, you pull the trigger.  Ultimately, Boston may want control of Hibbert, although I’m not sure they’d be willing to take on his massively overpaid deal of $15 million next season.

Scola, while deciding to appear and disappear in the most inconvenient times this season, is under contract until next summer.  Bird and Kevin Pritchard should weigh the pros and cons of involving him in a trade, and I believe it becomes a no-brainer if it’s something Boston would want in a Rondo package.

You can’t forget, Danny Ainge just drafted Marcus Smart, point guard out of Oklahoma State.  Smart’s attitude throughout college has always been one of confidence and positivity.  He’ll want to come in right away and contribute, hoping for a starting gig.  Another guard Boston owns that wants minutes next season is Avery Bradley, who they just extended a qualifying offer to.  The deal was worth $3.58 million, and he wants to receive a lot more than that.  If another team comes into the picture and offers him what he would like, they’ll lose the defensive pest.  That works against the case for trading Rondo, as Boston would have two primary guard options they could hopefully work together at the same time.

For Indiana’s sake, they would rather see Rondo come their way.  That’s what this team needs, is a point guard that has experience driving a team’s offense, especially against Miami’s Big 3.  Assuming LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade all re-sign with Miami and they add a free agent, the only shot the Pacers would have is to become a team that can match the Heat’s offensive attack.

Defensively, the Pacers are there.  They’re already championship worthy in that regard.  But, stopping Miami on the road isn’t as easy as it is at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, so sometimes you have to match fire with fire.  Rondo could take the load off George when it comes to creating shots, and Hibbert might actually be able to thrive in pick-and-rolls more than twice a month.  Seriously, Hibbert has two quality games scoring off the screen roll with George, and then he nearly hits the doughnut hole across the stat sheets.

But first, Indiana has to answer the question;  Are they born ready?

Lance Stephenson hits the free agent market on July 1, and will be under unrestricted concepts.  Many teams will look at his production from this season — being an all-out hustle guy and leading the team in rebounding at 7.2 per game — and throw offers at him.  For a guy that’s struggled in the early stages of his career and recently transformed into an All-Star caliber player, the money screams.

You only get one huge pay day if you’re Stephenson, before you have to go back out there on the court and prove why you’re worth it.  Say he takes way less money than he’s offered on the market, just to stay in Indiana.  By the way, he’s made it clear he would love to return to this team because he has a brotherhood with his teammates.  If he returns on a 2-3 year deal, he could get injured during that contract.  He could hit a roadblock with his game, and teams could make him struggle on the court.  Then, the chance to receive the same wealthy contract during his next free agency period …. would be ruined.

It’s a harder decision than most people realize.  It’s not about being greedy, not about being selfish.  It’s making a business decision, and one that he may never see again.

Since Lance appreciates every single thing Bird has done for him and has completely bought in to coach Frank Vogel, bet your bottom dollar on him staying where he can continue to compete for the Eastern Conference crown.

In terms of how they’ll look to retool the roster during the summer, some unrestricted free agent point guards look to be Aaron Brooks, Jordan Farmar, Ramon Sessions, Mo Williams, and Kyle Lowry.  You have to imagine Lowry is out of the question, considering the Pacers are nearly $4 million over the cap as it is.  Sign-and-trade possibilities will be swirling in the coming months, but something has to be done to improve the guard play.

Even if Sessions doesn’t seem like that much of an upgrade at the point guard slot, he’s had the chance to operate various offenses in his time, and won’t cost the Pacers a ton of cash.


May 26, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) reacts during a break against the Miami Heat in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 102-90. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In his exit interviews, Bird revealed that he hopes Hibbert works extremely hard this offseason.  He’s not been a team President that remains quiet and hides his feelings about the players.

A change in heart this summer could result in a Hibbert trade, and you honestly have to evaluate how much that hurts your team.  It clears up $15 million in cap space to remain flexible, but you’re losing an All-Defensive Second team center.  For the record, during the first half of the year, there wasn’t a better defender than Hibbert.  At the rim, it was almost certain you would come up short or find your shot bouncing back off your own face.  Hibbert was that angry.

Lavoy Allen will probably return to the team, as he’s a restricted free agent and not a ton of teams will make attractive offers for him.  Bird likes what he can contribute, and it may be necessary if Scola is dealt.

C.J. Watson and Donald Sloan will be under contract until summer 2015, so the depth in the backcourt is there, but perhaps not the guys you would love seeing.  Most of the time, Watson is a better option than Hill in the starting lineup and getting the most minutes, but Vogel is so hellbent on keeping “The Five” together that he would never be that crazy.  Sloan showed more than flashes of what he could turn out to be, but at this point Indiana realizes they need established veterans to compete with the only real goliath in the East.

Retooling does include swapping out bench players, including the guy that was supposed to be your sixth man.  Evan Turner, parked on the interstate re-fueling your Ferrari, I’m looking at you.  Bird wouldn’t re-sign Turner if he was offered $2 billion to do so.  I wouldn’t, at least.  It became nothing but a ridiculous mess, on and off the court, with Turner joining the team in February.  Stephenson obviously didn’t appreciate him, and there’s no justifying Turner’s performances in the playoffs.  I don’t think we can even call them performances.

Once the free agent market opens tomorrow (July 1), we’ll see who’s willing to make offers.  The Pacers don’t have the cap availability to do much, which is why they have to focus on the guys they already have, and be on the phones looking for deals.

I’m not sold on “staying the course.”  It’s not working.

If this “course” means you’re happy not having a Finals appearance in the last 14 years, Larry, I’m not sure the city supports it.


Tags: Evan Turner Frank Vogel Free Agency Indiana Pacers Lance Stephenson Larry Bird Paul George Rajon Rondo Roy Hibbert

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