Pacers deconstruct playoff team to build similar-level playoff team
NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
The 2018-19 Pacers built a strong identity.
They were balanced and persistent despite relying on numerous players with expiring contracts. Indiana won 48 games, showing no signs of internal strife while deal with Victor Oladipo’s injury. In a situation where many players would’ve turned toward individual goals, the Pacers stuck together.
But Indiana came undone this summer.
The Pacers lost four playoff starters: Thaddeus Young (signed with Bulls), Bojan Bogdanovic (signed with Jazz), Wesley Matthews (signed with Bucks) and Darren Collison (retired). Cory Joseph (signed with Kings) and Tyreke Evans (banned) also departed.
This is only the second time in since 1985 (as far back as Basketball-Reference tracks postseason starts) a team lost four players who started every playoff game the prior season.
In 1999, the Magic signed-and-traded Penny Hardaway to the Suns, traded Nick Anderson to the Kings, traded Horace Grant to the SuperSonics and traded Isaac Austin to the Wizards. Orlando was clearing salary for 2000 free agency and eventually landed Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill. Between, the Magic even went a surprisingly strong 41-41 in 1999-00 behind scrappy additions John Amaechi, Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins and rookie coach Doc Rivers.
Indiana is making no such willing step back.
The Pacers added several helpful players this summer: Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday and T.J. McConnell. The goal is clearly to build on consecutive 48-win seasons.
Indiana got much younger in all the roster turnover.
The big prize was Brogdon, but he came at a substantial cost. The Pacers guaranteed the 26-year-old with a history of foot trouble $85 million over four years. They also sent the Bucks a first-rounder and two second-rounders in the sign-and-trade for the restricted free agent. Brogdon is a good player, but that’s a lot.
Warren arrived via trade from the Suns in a much easier call. Phoenix sent Indiana the No. 32 pick just to take the 25-year-old forward. With $35.25 million and three years left on his contract, Warren is probably slightly overpaid. But he might not be. The high second-rounder (which the Pacers flipped to the Heat for three future second-rounders) more than covers the difference.
Signing Lamb to a three-year, $31.5 million contract looks like good value. A 27-year-old wing with his offensive talent is usually much more expensive.
Another helpful wing, Holiday came even cheaper. He settled for the room exception after the market dried up.
McConnell ($3.5 million guaranteed next season, $1 million of $3.5 million guaranteed the following season) will fill a role in the backcourt. The size will depend on second-year Aaron Holiday’s readiness for the rotation and Oladipo’s return from injury.
A healthier Oladipo was always bound to make the Pacers better. The new younger talent – including No. 18 pick Goga Bitadze – gives Indiana a chance to create something for the long haul.
Still, the Pacers had a winning formula the last couple years. They’ve disrupted it. That’s uneasy, even as there’s no guarantee the departed veterans would’ve maintained their production as they aged.
I’m also not convinced the new lineup has staying power. Indiana plans to start Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, both players who should primarily play center. Those two work together fine for now, but they’re better off apart.
That said, the big-man pairing can also help the Pacers maintain their culture of toughness and defense. Coach Nate McMillan can work with this group.
Only Indiana’s roster has changed. The reasonable expectation for this team hasn’t.
Offseason grade: C+