2016-17 Pacers Season Review
Indiana was one of the more inconsistent teams in the league this past season. They would go on impressive winning streaks, only to suffer inexplicable skids a few games later. The Pacers were on the periphery of the playoffs race for most of the year because of this troubling trend, but a late-season surge eventually saw them get in with a 42-40 record. They were swept in four games by the Cavs in the first round.
The Indiana defense, which was their key to success for the past few years under Frank Vogel, took an expected dip in the first season under new head coach Nate McMillan. Meanwhile, the fast-paced offense Larry Bird was looking to build didn’t exactly come to fruition.
Paul George had another fine season, but he didn’t really play his very best until late in the year. He got some solid help from two of Bird’s primary offseason acquisitions, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young. Myles Turner (14.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.1 BPG) had some bumpy stretches in his sophomore year, although showed enough flashes of his potential as a perfect modern NBA tall to make the Pacers confident that he’s their big man of the future.
However, the Pacers weren’t able to get enough two-way consistency from their non-George wings all year. Monta Ellis fell off a cliff offensively this season and remained a liability on defense. CJ Miles and Glenn Robinson III were solid at times but unspectacular. Rodney Stuckey was a non-factor and was eventually replaced by Lance Stephenson late in the season. Stephenson actually performed well upon his return to Indiana and figures to be a key player heading into next season.
Bringing Stephenson back proved to be Bird’s last significant personnel move as Pacers president, as he stepped down and handed over his powers to GM Kevin Pritchard. Pritchard will have some work to do this offseason, which figures to be a pivotal one in terms of the Pacers’ long-term future.
Quick Offseason Breakdown
Potential Free Agents: Jeff Teague (Unrestricted), CJ Miles (Unrestricted), Lavoy Allen (Team Option), Aaron Brooks (Unrestricted)
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts: Kevin Seraphin, Joseph Young, Georges Niang, Rakeem Christmas
2017 Draft Picks (2): #18, #47
Projected Cap Space: ~$18 million
The Pacers have the potential to open up over $30 million in cap space, although that doesn’t seem very likely since they will at least look to re-sign Teague. But if they renounce Miles’ $8.7 million cap hold, as well as some of their non-guaranteed deals, they could still carve up some substantial space to make a splash in free agency. They will also have their own first-rounder, which will be at No. 18, and the No. 47 second-rounder.
Biggest Offseason Priorities
1. Trade Paul George
The rumors of a possible George trade crept up during the trade deadline, and it certainly looks as if the writing’s on the wall for the Pacers in terms of their star forward’s future with the franchise. George, who has just one guaranteed year left on his current deal, didn’t make an All-NBA team this past season, meaning the Pacers can’t offer him the designated player veteran extension that was their possible trump card to keep him long-term.
The Pacers can still roll the dice and hope he makes it next season, but they would be risking the distinct possibility that he doesn’t make it again. That would open the door for him to leave for nothing in free agency next offseason and head to the Lakers as most have speculated if the Pacers don’t look close to contending for a championship.
The possibility of losing a top-caliber player for nothing in return is just not a risk a franchise like Indiana can afford to take. If they don’t get a good sense that George is willing to commit long-term, then they should move quickly to move him on this offseason. It would be ideal for them if they could get a promising prospect like D’Angelo Russell from the Lakers, which would open the door for Lonzo Ball to take over as LA’s lead guard.
Pacers GM Pritchard finds himself in a tough spot, but he must make the best decision for the franchise’s future, and that means dealing George away for as many assets as he can get while he still can.
2. Figure out Jeff Teague’s future
Trading George would likely spell the start of a rebuild for the Pacers, and that will have a big impact on their decision regarding Jeff Teague, who is an unrestricted free agent. Indiana probably won’t want to commit a ton of long-term money to anyone in the midst of a rebuild, so they’d likely let Teague walk.
But if they do decide to stick with George for this season, then keeping Teague is probably the Pacers’ best option. While not spectacular, Teague (15 PPG, 7.8 APG) was very solid in his first season in Indiana. The Pacers don’t have a great track record of luring top free agents, and they don’t figure to land anyone markedly better than Teague in the open market even if they open up the cap space, so they might as well keep him around.
But Teague, who is in that tier below the very top free-agent point guards, might get expensive, and the Pacers will also have to consider the consequences of giving him a big deal even with the possibility of George going in the near future.
3. Add more wing shooting
Although the Pacers were a top-five three-point shooting team in terms of percentage last season, they were in the bottom third in makes and bottom-five in attempts.This summer, they could possibly lose both George and Miles, who accounted for over half their threes.
But even if they do keep both, the Pacers still need to make some shooting upgrades on the wing since Monta Ellis, Lance Stephenson, and Glenn Robinson III are hardly knockdown shooters. Someone like JJ Redick would be their most ideal target, although the likes of Nick Young or Ben McLemore could also be possible cheaper options.
And if they decide to go full rebuild and lose both George and Miles, there are a couple of interesting wings available in the No. 18 range where they will be drafting. Duke’s Luke Kennard is just the type of Miles-like catch-and-shoot threat they could use going forward. Terrance Ferguson, who spurned college to play pro ball in Australia, also figures to have the potential to be a very solid 3-and-D wing.
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