How the Indiana Pacers Can Build Long-Term Around Paul George
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Let us rattle off a checklist:
1. Secure the Pacers' point guard situation with George Hill and C.J.Watson—check.
2. Re-sign Roy Hibbert and David West—check.
3. Fortify a bench that ranked second-worst in the NBA last season—check.
4. Hire solid assistant coaching candidates—check.
5. Reward head coach Frank Vogel with an extension—check.
6. Re-hire team president Larry Bird—check.
7. Address the Danny Granger and Lance Stephenson contract situations—not just yet.
Both Granger and Stephenson are in the final year of their respective deals in the 2013-14 NBA season. Granger will earn a little over $14 million while Stephenson will be paid around $1 million, per Hoopsworld.com.
They are seen to be instrumental pieces of Indiana's immediate title run, but now with George in the mix for at least the next five years, a contingency plan has to be in place knowing the uncertainty of professional sports.
Team management behind Bird, with the exception of a few blown draft picks such as Shawne Williams and Miles Plumlee, has been solid for the most part.
That being said, it would be wise to map out a Plan B as early as now in the extreme case that Granger and Stephenson are both gone by season's end.
Contingency Plan for Danny Granger
Danny Granger is one of the best Indiana Pacers of all time.
He suffered through several seasons when Indy missed the playoffs despite leading the team in scoring for five consecutive seasons.
It would be a shame to lose somebody as dedicated, loyal and patient as Granger, whom Vogel said was the hardest worker this offseason.
Best-case scenario: Granger's health holds up, he exceeds expectations (say, 16 points and six boards per game), Pacers win the title and he decides to re-sign with the team for a lower salary in 2014-15, most likely between $4 million and $5 million based on luxury tax threshold figures from Hoopsworld.com.
This salary range was also based on luxury tax threshold figures in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 NBA seasons, which have hovered around the $71 million mark.
If Granger is amenable to taking a substantial pay cut and plays like the Danny Granger of old, he'll be able to help the Pacers win more titles into his mid-30s (he's now 30 years old).
In this case, Indiana would be wise to keep him.
Worst-case scenario: Granger doesn't live up to expectations and is never really able to regain his old form because of his jumper's knee injury.
He either gets dealt before the trade deadline or he becomes a free agent after he plays out the last year of his contract.
In any case, the Pacers may want to consider signing local product and Butler alumnus Gordon Hayward, the Utah Jazz shooting guard who becomes a free agent after this season.
Hayward is a solid two-way player who will fit in nicely with Indiana. He does have a qualifying offer for $4.7 million in 2014-15 from the Utah Jazz, which should fit the Pacers' luxury tax threshold that season should Utah decide not to re-sign him.
Another point to be made: With Granger gone, signing Hayward, a 2-guard, will allow Paul George to see more time at small forward, his best position.
Hayward will also solidify Indiana's shooting guard corps should it fail to re-sign Lance Stephenson, a situation Pacers fans are hoping won't happen.
Contingency Plan for Lance Stephenson
Without Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson, the Indiana Pacers would have been goners last season.
Not only did he make a tremendous impact as a starter in Granger's absence, he made it clear, at only 23 years of age, he will be a valuable piece to the Pacers' long-term future with new cornerstone Paul George in tow.
However, Stephenson is entering the last year of his contract.
Bird told him "it will be your turn" next year during George's Sept. 25 press conference announcing his new $80-$90 million mega deal.
In spite of this, Stephenson, as much as he would love to stay in Indiana, says there are no guarantees when he spoke with Pacers.com's Scott Agness on Sept. 30.
I would love to stay here in Indiana. No doubt about that...It was a blessing and I'm happy he (Bird) said that, but I still have got to work hard. Nothing's guaranteed. I'm going to keep working hard (to) get ready for next season.
Agness himself wrote "finances most commonly disrupt plans" in terms of the Stephenson situation.
Best-case scenario: Stephenson, a hard worker just like George, builds on his success in 2012-13. He adds energy and spunk to the Pacers' vaunted bench with Granger as the projected starter.
He averages around 10 points and five rebounds per contest while holding his own on the defensive end.
Stephenson is instrumental in helping the Pacers win their first NBA title and is offered a heftier contract extension worth around the $2.5 million range per year.
Worst-case scenario: Stephenson is still a solid player, but his inconsistency, lack of mid-range game and average free-throw shooting are still evident.
His stock is still very much decent in spite of his weaknesses. Having said that, several contending teams with more room in their salary cap will dangle offers that are too hard for him to resist.
He bids Indianapolis adieu.
Hayward would be a great choice, as previously mentioned. In the extreme case that both Granger and Stephenson pack their bags, the Pacers' depth at the 3-spot will be affected.
Here, Indiana can make a go for small forward Jimmy Butler if the Chicago Bulls do not exercise their team option on him for 2014-15.
Butler is a solid two-way player just like Hayward and his projected salary of $2 million should create no issues in Indiana's salary cap.
Kawhi Leonard, the Pacers' 2011 first-round draft pick, will also be a free agent in 2014-15 with a salary of $2.9 million. With a team option like Butler, it's unlikely the San Antonio Spurs will let him go.
The Final Say
The Indiana Pacers have done a tremendous job of building around franchise player Paul George so far. They have pretty much covered all of the bases.
How would you grade the Indiana Pacers' efforts in building around franchise player Paul George?
A contingency plan involving Danny Granger and Lance Stephenson seems to be the only issue that needs to be addressed, along with making wise draft choices in the future.
Based on our analysis, Indiana would be wise to scour shooting guards and small forwards who will become free agents after this season, because nothing is set in stone, especially if Granger and Stephenson will no longer don Pacers blue and gold.
Gordon Hayward and Jimmy Butler should be two able replacements who can make a difference in offense and defense.
The bottom line is this: Expect the Indiana Pacers to maintain their status as perennial title contenders with Paul George as their franchise player and Larry Bird at the helm.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all salary stats are courtesy of Hoopsworld.com.
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