NBA Offseason Guide 2022 – How the Indiana Pacers can rebuild before next season

NBA Offseason Guide 2022 – How the Indiana Pacers can rebuild before next season post thumbnail image

The Indiana Pacers made a bold move at the trade deadline when they decided that mediocrity was not good enough.

Gone were veteran Caris LeVert to the Cleveland Cavaliers and All-Star Domantas Sabonis to the Sacramento Kings.

The trade-off was the fewest wins in franchise history since 1984-85 — but the Pacers gained financial flexibility to reshape the roster, a cornerstone player in guard Tyrese Haliburton and a future first-round draft pick from the Cavs/Pacers.

“We have a point guard of our future,” president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said at the trade deadline. “And if you have been in this business a long time, getting a point guard that is young with upside, and you feel like you can build around for the next 10 years, those don’t come around very often.

Indiana now enters the offseason with a focus on the June draft, where it has three draft picks, including one of its own, that could land in the top five.

The Pacers also have the option to create over $20 million of cap space to add players in free agency or in a trade.

MORE: Where do Pacers rank in ESPN’s Future Power Rankings?

State of the roster

Roster status: Fluid

Since Pritchard took over in 2017, the Pacers have never engaged in a full rebuild, even after Paul George asked to be traded five years ago.

Indiana has methodically built a competitive roster either with trades (Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, T.J. Warren, Malcolm Brogdon), the draft (Myles Turner) or in free agency (Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic). The result was five straight postseason appearances but a loss in the first round (play-in tournament in 2021) each year. The Pacers were competitive but clearly hit a dead end with their roster.

They took a step back on the court this season but have a clear direction on how the roster should be built.

Like the George trade in 2017 that saw Indiana acquire Sabonis and Oladipo, the Haliburton trade proved that the goal is to trade for established young players and not faceless future draft picks.

Haliburton, last year’s first-round pick Chris Duarte, a healthy Turner and a possible top-five pick in June along with cap flexibility gives Indiana a foundation to build on.

“Tyrese is that guy,” Pritchard said. “We feel like not only on the court but off the court he brings a persona that we need, and it’s going to be great building around him and Chris [Duarte] as our young players … and Goga Bitadze and Isaiah Jackson and Duane Washington Jr. We feel like we’ve got a lot of young players we can take a look at and grow.”

The roster decision Pritchard must currently navigate is whether to use cap space (Indiana could have up to $18 million) to improve the roster, at the risk of long-term flexibility, or use the 2022-23 season as a bridge year with a clear focus on Indiana’s young players.

The two highest paid (and oldest) players on the roster, Brogdon and Buddy Hield, have two years left on their contracts and give the Pacers another option, either to keep or explore moving in a trade.

How Haliburton fits with Brogdon is also a question Indiana will need to answer. Although it was a small sample, the Pacers were outscored by 16.3 points per 100 possessions with both players in the backcourt.

Brogdon last offseason signed a two-year extension and is under contract through 2024-25. He has a salary of $22.6, $22.5 and $22.5 million over three seasons.


The Pacers are in a unique position with Turner because not only can they extend his contract, they can also renegotiate his current salary.

Before suffering a season-ending left foot injury in mid-January, Turner was averaging 2.8 blocks this season, the most in the NBA, and contesting 5.7 shots per game in the restricted area, the fourth most in the NBA. He also shot a career-best 75% in the restricted area while averaging 4.4 3-point attempts this season, the most among centers. Last season, he missed 18 games, including both play-in games.

The question for Indiana should not be about Turner’s overall play but whether they have faith in rewarding him with a lucrative contract coming off injury.

He is eligible to sign a four-year, $96.8 million extension with a starting salary of $21.6 million in 2023-24:

  • 2023-24 | $21.6M

  • 2024-25 | $23.3M

  • 2025-26 | $25.1M

  • 2026-27 | $26.8M

The renegotiation scenario, described below, is uncommon and has not occurred since the Philadelphia 76ers converted cap space into a new contract for Robert Covington in 2017.

Indiana can increase Turner’s contract up to the maximum salary allowed ($36.6M) but is then allowed to decrease the salary up to 40% in the second year.

Here’s what a renegotiation and extension would look like:

  • 2022-23 | $28.0M

  • 2023-24 | $16.8M

  • 2024-25 | $18.1M

  • 2025-25 | $20.8M

The contract is front loaded with Turner earning $10 million in additional salary now, with a tradeoff of a lower contract in Years 2 to 4.

The total new money averages to $21.3 million over three seasons, and Indiana would still have $15 million left in cap space.


Offseason cap breakdown

The Pacers are one of a handful of teams that could have cap flexibility in the offseason.

To create up to $25 million in room, Indiana would have to renounce all of its free agents, including its three trade exceptions (valued at $10.5, $7.3 and $2.3 million).

The room scenario would also see Indiana exchange its $10.3 million mid-level exception for a smaller $5.3 million exception.

Team needs

Resources to build the roster

  • The draft: A lottery first-round and two second-round picks

  • Cap flexibility: Up to $25 million in room

  • Exceptions: $10.3 and $4.1 million (but only if they stay over the cap)

  • Trade exceptions: $10.5, $7.3 and $2.3 million (but will lose with cap space)

  • Cash: $6.3M to send or receive in a trade


Dates to watch

  • June 29: The last day to exercise the $1.8 million team option for Oshae Brissett. The forward played 65 games this season, averaging 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds. In 25 starts, he averaged 30.9 minutes, 13.7 points and seven rebounds. The contract is non-guaranteed if the Pacers elect to exercise the option. Because Brissett will have three years of service starting on July 1, he will become an unrestricted free agent in 2023 if they pick up the option. If they decline, Brissett is a restricted free agent if they tender him a $2 million qualifying offer.

  • June 29: The last day to tender two-way players Nate Hinton and Gabe York a $50,000 qualifying offer.

  • July 6: The $1.6 million contract of Washington is guaranteed. The former two-way player appeared in 48 games this year, averaging 20.2 minutes and 9.9 points.

  • July 10: The $1.6 million contract of Terry Taylor is guaranteed. Terry has $625,000 in guaranteed money, and the Pacers would take on a cap hit for the protected portion of his salary. The forward averaged 9.6 points in 21.6 minutes this season.


Restrictions

  • The Pacers took a no-risk flier when they acquired former lottery pick Jalen Smith from the Phoenix Suns at the trade deadline. In 22 games for them, Smith averaged 13 points and six rebounds. The downside now is that the Pacers are restricted on what they can offer him in a new contract. Smith signed a four-year rookie-scale contract with the Suns that contained a team option in the third and fourth years. Because the option was declined, any team that acquired him could offer a contract of up to only $4.7 million in the first season. That is equal to the third-year salary Smith would have earned if he was still on his rookie contract. To make things worse, if Smith were to sign a one-year contract and then become a free agent in 2023, the Pacers once again are restricted in what they can offer him. A salary in 2023-24 cannot exceed $5.95 million, the fourth year of his original contract that he signed in Phoenix.

  • Brissett cannot be traded until the team option is exercised. Because his contract is non-guaranteed, there is no outgoing salary in a trade.

  • Taylor and Washington have a signing restriction and cannot be traded until July 7.


Extension eligible

  • Former first-round pick Bitadze is eligible for a rookie extension. The center averaged a career high in minutes (14.6) and points (7.0) this season. He started eight games after the All-Star break and scored a season-high 23 points in a win against the Houston Rockets.


The draft

One situation Indiana is unaccustomed to is drafting high in the lottery. The last player it selected with a top-10 pick was Paul George in 2010.

The Pacers also have two seconds, including the first pick in the second round from Houston, this year.

Because Cleveland lost in the play-in tournament, the first-round pick that was acquired from the LeVert trade is now a 2023 (top-14 protected) first-round pick. It will turn into a 2025 second-round pick if not conveyed next year.

Here’s how ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz have Indiana selecting in June:

No. 5 (own): Keegan Murray | SF | Iowa

He’s a lights-out shooter with NBA range who doesn’t need much time to get his shot off, even sprinting around screens like a wing. He can push the ball himself in transition or run the floor like a center. He’s an ambidextrous, straight-line driver who also can play some pick-and-roll and punish smaller defenders with turnarounds over either shoulder. He’s an active offensive rebounder and a defensive playmaker. — Schmitz

No. 31 (via HOU): Jean Montero | PG/SG | Overtime Elite

Always known for his scoring prowess, Montero’s passing creativity and overall unselfishness have stood out thus far. On a team with several scoring options, he sets the tone by passing ahead, making the right play and operating with a level of maturity and poise that is impressive to see from an 18-year-old, often lifting up teammates after mistakes.

While Montero is not immune to getting caught up in the highlight-reel nature of OTE’s games, he has had some really impressive moments rejecting screens; snaking, probing and surveying the court out of pick-and-roll; and putting quite a bit of pressure on opposing defenses with his handle, footwork, quickness and natural pace. The fact that he can pull up off the dribble from deep vantage points makes him difficult to plan for, especially with the way he can find teammates on the move using both sides of the floor, as well as score inside the arc in a variety of ways. — Givony

No. 58 (via PHX): Michael Foster | PF | G League Ignite

Undersized for an NBA center at 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot wingspan, Foster’s best production has come in the low-post or mid-post areas, where his scoring instincts and touch shine. The high, elongated release on his jumper leaves doubt about his ability to stretch the floor effectively, as he’s just 5-of-24 from 3 (20.8%) through 16 games. His occasional selfish style of play and lack of passing ability hurt him in the eyes of evaluators, as NBA teams increasingly want to see a certain level of decision-making from modern big men who can help teams win. — Givony

MORE: Complete 2022 NBA draft coverage



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