Biggest Offseason Priorities and Targets for Indiana Pacers
In Game 2, Indy dug most of the way out of an 18-point hole but couldn’t quite complete the comeback. Game 3 saw the Pacers pile up a 26-point lead, only for LeBron James and the Cavs to engineer the largest second-half comeback in NBA playoffs history. In Game 4, the Pacers were a wide-open Paul George three away from sending it to overtime.
Now, Larry Bird finds himself faced with perhaps the most pivotal offseason of his Pacers tenure. Indy could be flush with cap space during an offseason full of big-name free agents. How the team spends that money, though, will have everything to do with Paul George’s part in the franchise’s future.
Sort out Paul George’s Situation
Paul George’s dissatisfaction in the Circle City has gone from rumbling subplot to full-blown storyline over the course of this season.
Back in December, George griped about how little fun he was having with the Pacers. The following month, he took umbrage with boos from home fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Before the trade deadline, he spoke ominously of a “dark cloud” hanging over the Pacers. After the deadline came and went, he complained about not being "in the loop” regarding the team’s trade talks, some of which reportedly involved George to some degree.
And that was all before he called out C.J. Miles’ shot at the end of Game 1 and Lance Stephenson’s attitude after Game 2 of Indy’s first-round series with Cleveland.
Those and other comments point to plenty of unhappiness in PG-13’s camp, though to hear Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding tell it, they may simply be the byproduct of his refreshingly candid approach to PR:
George also has been one of the most open of NBA stars, sitting at his locker for 20 minutes in front of the press when other stars are hiding, and pausing his walk to answer a question when others blow by rather than talk. It has all happened with limited fanfare given his locale in Indianapolis.
Not that George is without reason for discontent. The Pacers (42-40) didn’t lock down a playoff spot until the last day of the regular season, following a tumultuous offseason during which they changed head coaches (Frank Vogel out, Nate McMillan promoted) and point guards (George Hill out, Jeff Teague acquired).
Still, all those points of contention could be rendered moot if George is named to an All-NBA team. Should he land one of those coveted spots, he would be eligible to sign a super-max extension with the Pacers worth nearly $200 million—one he wouldn’t be able to ink anywhere other than Indy.
Money may not buy happiness, but that kind of scratch would be next to impossible to turn down.
If PG-13 Stays...Get Him Help
Should the Summer of George fizzle before it begins, the Pacers will be after the same thing that was already their focus at the trade deadline: help for their resident superstar.
Indiana can clear room for another max player in free agency and, with some creative accounting, come close to opening a second such slot. This year's class won't be short on targets for that kind of cash.
ESPN's Zach Lowe reported in March that George would "love to play" with Gordon Hayward, an Indianapolis native. He won't be the only player or team to be hot on Hayward's heels this summer. The Boston Celtics and incumbent Utah Jazz figure to be among those lining up for his services.
"Our pick is in play," Pacers executive Larry Bird told Lowe.
As well it should be if Indy is looking to win now, rather than devote its resources to grooming another rookie around George.
If PG-13 Goes…Get a Good Return for Him
Suppose George doesn’t get an All-NBA nod and, in turn, doesn’t get the super-max extension. What then? Would the Pacers have to trade him?
Technically, no. But if they have any clear sense he’s going to walk as a free agent in 2018, it would behoove Indy to get something in return for a star the organization has groomed into one of the league’s premier two-way players.
In that case, the Pacers shouldn’t have much trouble drumming up a market for their four-time All-Star. The Lakers and Celtics, both of whom reportedly contacted Indy about George prior to the trade deadline, figure to be in the mix. Heck, just about any team with chips (i.e. draft picks, young talent, wise veterans with cap-friendly contracts) should do no less than inquire about PG-13’s availability.
So long as the Pacers don’t get hoodwinked like a certain Northern California-based club did for its own All-Star this past February, they should get something good back for George. Players of his caliber don’t exactly grow on trees, least of all in a small market like Indianapolis. Their cupboard wouldn’t be totally bare without George, but it wouldn’t be ready to stock a squad for playoff contention, either.
Myles Turner’s Next Step
Chief among potential building blocks in Naptown outside of George: Myles Turner.
The 21-year-old wasn't quite ready for prime time against the full-grown Cavaliers in these playoffs (10.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 1.8 steals), but the team's shortfall shouldn't distract from the bigger picture here. In Turner, Indy has a unicorn of its own to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic in the NBA of the future.
Turner has spent most of his pro minutes so far at center, but played power forward as a freshman at Texas. By and large, the Pacers see him as a 4 because he has the skill (34.5 percent from three in Year 2) to play the position but not the size (6'11", 243 pounds) to battle bigger, stronger 5s. In time, he could add the extra layers he needs to compete at center.
The challenge for Indy is that it may have to gamble on what kind of player it wants Turner to be before he's grown into his own. Which position best suits him could dictate the type of talent it looks to add this summer, perhaps even in a potential trade involving Paul George.
If Turner is a 4, Indy could prioritize suitors for George who can offer a more physical 5-man in return. If the Pacers are comfortable with Turner at center, adding more shooting and ball-handling to the roster could assist their quest to push the pace.
Turner's development will be ust as important if George stays. He's the Pacers' ace in the hole, with the potential to be more than an intriguing sidekick down the line. Indy, then, may not have to look far to find the talent to turn this team into a contender while PG-13 is still in his prime.
Who’s the Point Guard?
With or without Paul George, someone’s going to have to play point guard in Indianapolis.
Jeff Teague, whom the Pacers acquired in a three-way deal that sent George Hill to Utah last summer, is ticketed for unrestricted free agency. At 28, after averaging a career-high 7.8 assists per game, Teague is poised to pounce on some serious money this summer.
Might the contract he wants come from the Pacers, his hometown team? Could Hill, another Circle City native, go for a second tour on the ball under Larry Bird’s thumb? Or could the Pacers aim for someone with a more decorated resume, be it for a former All-Star like Jrue Holiday or a current one in Kyle Lowry?
Their need for a floor general will be every bit as glaring in the event of PG-13’s escape from the Hoosier State. Perhaps a deal for George could net a promising young player at that position. Or maybe Indy’s able to roll the dice on one with its mid-first-round pick.
Either way, in a league where point guards rule the day, the Pacers won’t be any closer to contention—or a swifter rebuild—without someone to fill that role in the rotation next season.