Even though the playoffs are right around the corner, it's never too early to look ahead to next season. And while Indiana Pacers fans are expecting a deep playoff run, the future should always be at the forefront of everyone's mind.
The Pacers have many of their main assets locked up for at least the 2013-14 season. The main exception is David West, who will be an unrestricted free agent once this year ends. We'll go over many of the contracts on the books, but if you want a complete overview of the Pacers' salary cap, here it is (per Hoopsworld.com).
Before we start with who will be gone, let's examine who the Pacers should keep for next year and beyond.
The obvious keeper is Paul George. Not only is George the Pacers' best player, but he will make less than Gerald Green this year and next. Right now, the Pacers have a steal in George for the amount of money he makes, and there's no doubt he will be back.
Not many other players in the game can do what George does. He does it on both ends of the court and is one of the most exciting players in the league, as Jerry Stackhouse found out Friday night.
George is the player the Pacers will build around moving forward, and ideally it would be without Danny Granger.
Granger is a dynamic scorer and solid team leader, but he never became the superstar-caliber player the Pacers had once hoped for. He peaked in the 2008-09 season and has gone downhill from there.
He never has been, and never will be, an efficient scorer. Granger's only shot above 45 percent twice in his career, and ironically those were his first two years when he wasn't taking as many shots. He's a good three-point shooter, but inside the arch, he takes too many poor shots and has been getting to the foul line at a decreasing rate.
In a perfect world, the Pacers would not be paying Granger $14 million to be back with the team next year, but they've already used their amnesty clause on James Posey...whoops. That $6.9 million Posey contract doesn't look so bad compared to the $14 million they'll be paying an aging volume scorer who hasn't played in a year.
Somehow the Pacers should look to rid themselves of Granger so they can pay their impending free agents, starting with David West.
West isn't a superstar either, but he embodies what the Pacers represent. He's a tough player, despite his declining defense, and a versatile scorer. Whether he deserves another $10 million per year is a debate, but the Pacers should look to re-up with West.
Take a look at every scheduled free agent-to-be this offseason (per ESPN.com). The power forward class includes Josh Smith, Paul Millsap and J.J. Hickson, who are all good players, but none is a great fit for the Pacers.
Smith is prone to mental lapses, especially on the defensive end of the court, which would not fly in Indiana's system. Millsap is a bit undersized for a power forward, and signing him would cause a logjam in the frontcourt if Granger comes back. And Hickson would be the cheapest out of the three, but he isn't a strong defender and is a bit undersized too.
Bringing West back at the right price is the best scenario for the Pacers.
The other position most in need is point guard. George Hill is a solid athlete but is not a pure point guard in any sense of the words. There is one point guard positioned to be a free agent this year...
Fat chance Chris Paul comes to Indiana, though. There is no doubt Paul has thrived in the big market of Los Angeles, and the front office has done a good job of surrounding Paul with complementary players. He seems comfortable, so there is a slim chance he signs elsewhere.
If Indiana is able to woo him, it'd most likely have to get rid of Granger's contract plus George Hill's $8 million per year. I highly doubt this scenario, so expect Hill to be the starting point guard next year.
Indiana should look for a better option than D.J. Augustin, though. Augustin is undersized and there are better options becoming free agents this year. Jose Calderon can't play defense, but the Pacers would be able to hide him if he were coming off the bench.
All season the Pacers have struggled to facilitate things on the offensive side of the ball. Adding a pass-first point guard such as Calderon would benefit the Pacers significantly.
Elsewhere, Tyler Hansbrough is a restricted free agent, and I'm not sure he's worth the $4.2 million qualifying offer his contract stipulates. He brings energy off the bench but struggles with his shot selection and defending bigger opponents. The Pacers could explore other options, but bringing back Hansbrough on that salary is not the end of the world. In the end, I expect to see him back next year.
Plus, Hansbrough is still worth more than Gerald Green, who still has two years and $7 million remaining on his deal. Green has only averaged 12 minutes per game off the bench since the All-Star break, and besides his annual appearance in the dunk contest, he isn't worth much.
Overall, the Pacers should look similar in 2013. Perhaps a few faces may leave, but they should mainly be reserves. Indiana will likely make a strong play for David West, but losing its other impending free agents would be no skin off its back. The only significant non-free-agent move would be to get rid of Granger, but only time will tell if that move will come to fruition.
Until then we can only speculate and enjoy what the current team does in the playoffs.
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