Report Card Grades for Indiana Pacers' 2014 Offseason So Far
The Indiana Pacers' 2014 offseason has been an interesting one.
Now, the Indiana Pacers—Eastern Conference Finalists and Central Division champions for the past two years—are a team in transition. Will their current offseason moves allow them to remain NBA title contenders?
Indiana has not made the NBA Finals in 14 years. During Bird's tenure as president of basketball operations, which began in 2003, the team has made three Eastern Conference Finals appearances, per RealGM.com. While the current roster looks promising, fans want no less than the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
That being said, Indy's offseason moves will simply be graded on how they help the team's title aspirations for the 2014-15 NBA season.
It's now or never for the Indiana Pacers.
Allowing Evan Turner to Be an Unrestricted Free Agent
When the Indiana Pacers allowed Evan Turner to become an unrestricted free agent on June 30, they made a move which was painfully obvious.
His acquisition was a complete and utter failure.
It wasn't easy to part ways with the beloved Danny Granger, but getting Turner seemed to be very attractive at first. He could slash, run the floor well and create his own shot. More importantly, he could provide a spark off the bench which the Pacers so desperately needed.
He did show some of his prowess that made him the second overall pick of the 2010 NBA draft. However, he was a misfit in the Pacers system for the most part. Turner was a liability on defense and disappeared in several-game stretches.
Could he have flourished as Indy's starting shooting guard in light of Stephenson's departure? That would have been very unlikely, considering how he fit in the overall scheme of things. Now that he's a member of the rebuilding Boston Celtics, he ought to get another shot at redemption.
The Pacers hardly had any use for Turner in last season's playoffs and they still reached the Eastern Conference Finals. By releasing him, they made sure to accommodate more players who can help them win their first NBA title.
Signing Shayne Whittington
Shayne Whittington from Western Michigan University, that's who.
The 23-year-old Whittington is listed as 6'10" and 237 pounds by DraftExpress.com. Basketball scout Mike Schmitz sized up Whittingon's game when he played in last April's Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT), going 10-of-22 from three-point distance:
While lacking explosiveness, Whittington isn't a stiff. He moves well for his size, most evident by his footwork and ability to shoot on the move. Whittington gets excellent lift on his jumper for a player his size. Although he would most likely be relegated to a floor-spacer at the professional level, Whittington has showed some game inside the arc at the college level.
He doesn't have the best feel for the game as he's prone to forcing the issue and driving into traffic in face-up situations, but Whittington has solid touch on his right-hand jump hook and has the ability to knock down face-up jump shots and pick and pop to mid-range spots.
A taste of what Whittington has to offer can be seen here. The Pacers also listed him as a center in their official release. That being said, he could be a stretch 5 off the bench a la Sam Perkins. This is a luxury the Pacers have not had in a long while, so if Whittington's shooting holds up in the pros, he can offer another dimension to keep opposing defenses honest.
However, he still has to earn his stripes like all rookies should.
Re-Signing Lavoy Allen
It was a pity Lavoy Allen didn't get to play all that much in his first season with the Indiana Pacers.
Allen has an array of post moves and has a decent mid-range shooting touch. When he was still with the Philadelphia 76ers, he showed he can provide quality minutes when given the opportunity, as evidenced by this video.
However, he languished on the bench when Indiana acquired him as a part of the Danny Granger deal.
The Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner analyzes Allen's re-signing:
Allen's re-signing creates a potential logjam in the frontcourt as the Pacers now have four players who are listed as centers under contract for the 2014-15 season. This week, the team announced the signing of undrafted 6-10 rookie Shayne Whittington.
In spite of the crowded rotation—which stands as of now—(Allen's agent Andy) Miller views Allen's contract as an opportunity to truly grow with the team, instead of learning on the fly late in the year.
This move was a bit puzzling. The Pacers could have let Allen (who will make $948,163 in 2014-15, per 8points9seconds.com's Tim Donahue) test the market so they would have had more cap space to sign a playmaking point guard. It would make no sense to see Allen suffer the same fate as Chris Copeland, a player with tremendous potential who was relegated to the end of the bench.
Could Bird still want to get something out of the failed Danny Granger trade? It's all on Lavoy Allen to show everyone what he's got.
Signing Damjan Rudez
As somebody who made a name for himself overseas, Damjan Rudez is a complete unknown to Pacers fans.
Buckner offers a short introduction on the Croatian hotsthot:
Though Rudez went undrafted in 2008, over the past year he has drawn interest from NBA teams as he has competed in the top professional league in Spain, playing against former NBA players Rudy Fernandez and Bostjan Nachbar, and future Chicago Bull Nikola Mirotic.
Once Rudez crafted himself into one of the best shooters in Europe—42.3 percent accuracy from deep last season—he landed on the radar of Pacers' director of international scouting, Pete Philo, and this summer he impressed the home brass with a lights-out shooting session.
Aside from his outside sniping, Rudez can also finish well on the fast break, as seen in this video.
It was obvious Indiana needed more offense from its bench last season, and Bird hopes Rudez can help remedy that situation once and for all. But wasn't that what Chris Copeland was for when they signed him in the summer of 2013? This is another potential head-scratcher.
Let's all cross our fingers that Rudez is not another Sarunas Jasikevicius, the Lithuanian player who had an unremarkable one-year stint with the Pacers in 2006-07.
Signing C.J. Miles
C.J. Miles (who the Pacers signed to a four-year, $18 million deal) can flat out shoot, but he doesn't offer the versatility that Lance Stephenson did.
With Stephenson gone, Buckner projects Miles to take over as the starting shooting guard for the Pacers:
So though Miles, 27, has enjoyed his best years as a backup, he now becomes the apparent starter at shooting guard to replace Lance Stephenson.
Similar to Rodney Stuckey, Miles' former employers can be partially to blame for some skimpy numbers—the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12 in Utah stands as the last time he played on a winning team. A mix of poor rotations with underwhelming teammates can partially factor into his 10.6 career average.
Yet in spite of the inconsistency of his Cleveland teams, Miles' shooting has remained reliable and he has hit at least 38.4 percent of his 3-pointers the past two years.
It's not that Miles will fill the role of a Reggie Miller-type player, although it is worth noting Stephenson was Indiana's most consistent player all season long. Miles will be counted on to at least try to offset the 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists Stephenson contributed in 2013-14.
More than that, Miles has to bring the energy and spunk Stephenson had—just some of the intangibles that helped the Pacers make consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances in the last two years. If he is up to the task and Indy finally wins an NBA title, consider his acquisition as a steal.
Signing Rodney Stuckey
While C.J. Miles is more of an outside shooting threat, Rodney Stuckey is the slasher and shot-creator at shooting guard for the Pacers.
Apparently it took two players to make up for the loss of Lance Stephenson, who can do a little bit of everything.
Pacers.com's Mark Montieth says Stuckey offers a valuable scoring punch in spite of his inconsistent outside shooting:
Miles is primarily a perimeter shooter, one who hit nearly 40 percent of his three-pointers each of the past two seasons. Stuckey has hit better than 30 percent of his three-point attempts just twice in his NBA career. He's an athletic combo guard, more of a slasher than a shooter. Still, he's capable of scoring outbursts, such as the 40-point game he produced against the Chicago Bulls in December of 2008.
Still, Stuckey stands out in an otherwise thin free-agent group at shooting guard, a group which includes the likes of Nick Young, Thabo Sefolosha and an aging Vince Carter. A change of scenery should rejuvenate Stuckey, who has missed the last five playoffs while with the Detroit Pistons, per Montieth.
If Buckner's prediction of Miles starting holds true, Stuckey will be relied on to give the bench a lift. If sophomore Solomon Hill comes alive at shooting guard/small forward, the better it will be for Indy's title aspirations.
Pursuing Lance Stephenson
The Indiana Pacers had high hopes of keeping Lance Stephenson once the offseason began.
Alas, it was not meant to be. The Hornets signed the controversial shooting guard on July 18, ending Stephenson's tenure in Pacers blue and gold—a tenure which saw him help Indiana to two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals stints.
What made it all the more memorable was his rise from obscurity two years ago when Danny Granger got injured. He took Granger's place in the starting lineup and became a major contributor of a perennial title contender. Had it not been for Stephenson, Indiana would have been a low seed in the East's playoff bracket. No question.
Now he's gone.
To recap, Indy offered him a five-year, $44 million deal while Charlotte dangled a three-year, $27 million contract, per the Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz. His July 21 report also mentioned that Stephenson's camp wanted a $55 million contract and that the Pacers were willing to offer some flexibility:
Except that according to Bird, the Pacers were willing to offer a shorter-term contract that would have given Stephenson the chance to cash in should his game continue to grow the way both he and Bird believe it will. The Pacers were also willing, however grudgingly, to give Stephenson a player option midway through a five-year contract so that he could opt out and test the market once the cap money increased.
Keep this in mind, too, that after next year, both David West and Roy Hibbert have player options, so if one or either decided to bolt and test the free-agent market, it would have opened up lots of cap money if Stephenson wanted to opt out.
As hard as the Pacers tried to keep Stephenson, it did not pan out in the end. Now, their title hopes at the shooting guard spot rest on C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey.
The Overall Picture...For Now
As of July 23, 8points9seconds.com's Tim Donahue reports the Pacers have committed $75,185,539 in salaries to 15 players. Donahue also adds that this season's luxury tax threshold is $76,829,000.
Does this mean Larry Legend is done tinkering with Indiana's lineup?
Indications say he isn't.
Consider the Pacers' current unbalanced depth chart, per Donahue:
- Point guard—George Hill, C.J. Watson, Donald Sloan
- Shooting guard—C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey
- Small forward—Paul George, Solomon Hill
- Power forward—David West, Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, Damjan Rudez
- Center—Roy Hibbert, Ian Mahinmi, Lavoy Allen, Shayne Whittington
Donahue says, "Indiana is decidedly thin on the wing and heavy at the big positions. There remains some flexibility within the roster regarding partially-guaranteed contracts."
In addition, the Pacers also need a playmaking point guard. Jameer Nelson would have been an ideal candidate, but he already signed with the Dallas Mavericks on July 24. It's anybody's guess if George Hill will still run the offense.
Based on Donahue's observation that Bird has a penchant for orchestrating deals once the free-agency period dies down (as was the case with Luis Scola on July 27 last year), the Hill issue remains a moot point.
What's clear is Roy Hibbert is still the man in the middle for Indy as no less than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was tapped to be his offseason mentor.
The Pacers are still a solid playoff club. Stephenson's loss is compensated for by Miles and Stuckey, two players who have contrasting strengths on offense. With several new faces in tow, Indiana also hopes to avoid a repeat of their epic late-season collapse in 2013-14.
All in all, the team is still a piece or two away from becoming a title contender.
Overall grade: B