As each NBA team is eliminated from contention for the 2016-17 title, The Post looks at what it has in store this offseason. The series continues with the Indiana Pacers, who were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.
2017 draft picks
First round: Their own (No. 18 overall).
Second round: Their own.
2017-18 salary cap space (with projected $102 million cap)
$33.4 million (six players with $62.4 million in guaranteed contracts, two draft picks worth $2.9 million, four roster charges worth $3.3 million). Doesn’t include C.J. Miles’s player option, Lavoy Allen’s team option or non-guaranteed contracts for Kevin Seraphin, Joseph Young, Rakeem Christmas, Glenn Robinson III and Georges Niang.
2017 free agents
PG Jeff Teague, PG Aaron Brooks
Five questions to answer
1. Where will Paul George play next season?
Much of this was covered in our story Friday about Larry Bird’s decision to step down as team president, but it still remains the most essential question moving forward about the Pacers.
With Indiana now home for the summer, and with Bird — thought by many to be the biggest impediment to a potential George trade — now out of the picture, at least officially, the window to send George packing this summer now seems more open.
These are the questions Indiana has to answer: Can George potentially be convinced to stay if he makes an all-NBA team either this season or next, allowing him to get a massive extension next summer? And, if the Pacers try to move him now, how much can they actually get in return for a guy who can walk as a free agent in 12 months? There will be no player discussed more as a possible trade target between now and next season, making George’s future one of the most important story lines in the NBA.
2. What will Jeff Teague decide to do in free agency?
There are many competing variables here for the Pacers. The first is the future of George with the team, as stated above. If George is going to be around, locking up Teague — or finding another starting point guard — is essential. If not, the question becomes this: Will Teague be the right fit for the next few years, as he’s entering his age-29 season, to play alongside young center Myles Turner?
Either way, Teague is going to have suitors in free agency. Several teams have potential needs at point guard — including Indiana, the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz. All will likely have at least some interest in Teague, depending on how their own point guard situations shake out.
What’s clear is that Teague is going to get a big pay raise from his $8 million salary this season. Where he’ll be getting it, and how much he’ll be getting, remains to be seen.
3. Can Turner take a leap forward next season?
Turner made big strides in his second season, building off an impressive rookie year by improving in every category. With averages of 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game — while shooting 51 percent overall and 34.8 percent from three-point range — it’s clear Turner has the skill set to be a force as a “stretch five” — something every NBA team is searching for these days.
The question now is whether Turner can take another step forward next season, and what that means for the Pacers’ plans. Like everything else on this list, George’s future factors in heavily here. With George, the goal for Turner is to grow into someone who looks like a potential all-star next season, a co-star who can team with George to take Indiana back toward becoming a serious contender again.
If George leaves, though, then Turner becomes something else: the long-term foundation piece for what Indiana hopes will be the team’s next contender. And given that Turner only turned 21 in March, he should have plenty of time to grow and develop over the next several seasons with the Pacers.
4. Can the Pacers find a way to move on from Monta Ellis?
Ellis may have had it all at one point, but those days have passed. Instead, he looked exactly like what he is this season: a small guard who was powered by speed and athleticism who has gone past the wrong side of 30.
The averages Ellis put up this season — 8.5 points and 3.2 assists, both the lowest he’s put up since his rookie year — reflect that. This leaves Indiana in a tough spot, as they would undoubtedly like to find a way to move on from the $11 million Ellis is owed for next season.
And while it’s hard to imagine a team wanting Ellis, Indiana could use his contract to bring in a player making similar money under contract for more years. Why? Because a team looking to free up money in 2018 could look at Ellis’s contract, which will void a 2018-19 player option if he’s waived before the end of next season (something ESPN’s Zach Lowe pointed out earlier this season), which could allow him to become an expiring contract either this summer or next season to bring a more useful piece back to Indiana.
5. Which direction will Indiana go in free agency?
With Teague and C.J. Miles both up for grabs, the Pacers have $36 million to spend and a lot of directions to go with it.
Whether or not Teague is retained, Indiana is going to need a starting point guard. And whether or not Miles is retained, Indiana is going to need more depth alongside George, Robinson and Lance Stephenson (again, assuming George is retained).
Watching Indiana during the playoffs, it was clear the Pacers need more depth, even if their two main free agents are retained. Turner’s backups simply aren’t built for today’s NBA, and the team lacks a solid option behind Thaddeus Young at power forward. So as Kevin Pritchard begins his time in charge of the team, his work — whether he moves George or not — will keep him plenty busy this summer.
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