Zach Lowe is always on top of the game. I haven´t personally run the math yet, but his figures in the tweet above look right to me.
But even louder than the minutiae of the accounting is the sound of the Pacers signing two people nobody has ever heard of (Damjan Rudez and Shayne Whittington) and one middling wing (C.J. Miles) so soon after making a five-year, $44 million offer to Lance Stephenson, the guy everyone in the franchise has said they want back next season.
Shouldn´t they instead be waiting for some more clarity on the Lance front before making a bunch of non-difference-making moves that seem to jeopardize their ability to re-sign Stepehnson?
What´s the deal?
We don´t know.
Thus, let´s break down the options in Lowe´s tweet.
1. The Pacers Have Punted on Re-Signing Lance
If this is the case it would have to be because either:
(a) they don´t really care if he comes back in the first place, and they don´t want to wait around for him to make up his mind
… or …
(b) they got the overwhelming feeling that he wouldn´t be re-signing for that price (or perhaps any price)
The first part of that that would be pretty odd coming so soon after they seemingly made a run at him in earnest. Why would there be a change of heart so quickly? Surely signing Rudez and Whittington (if not Miles) could have been put off another few days.
2. Indiana May Go Over the Luxury Tax Threshold
If the Pacers have made all these moves so far and plan to keep everyone else still on the payroll next year and still have a five-year, $44 million deal on the table for Lance to sign then they are willing to go over the tax.
That´s just how math works.
This wouldn´t completely shock me and has been something I have wondered about all year. My thoughts, in January mind you, were that if the Pacers made another excellent run at a title — say losing in the Finals or getting edged out by Miami again — then owner Herb Simon would have to at least consider going over the tax to bring back the band.
He is an old man, and part of that means that he needs to make sure the franchise´s financial ducks are in a row for his heirs. But the flipside is that he has been the owner of this team for a long, long time and this current incarnation might be his last chance to see a title.
Rich men don´t get as rich as Simon has by thinking with their heart over their brain, but it would have to be tempting.
The record scratch moment here, however, is that the Pacers didn´t barely lose. They got punked out, and nearly did so in the first round. It would be hard for anyone to convince Simon that simply bringing back the same players would give them an excellent shot to win one next season.
Still, Simon has spent heavily on payroll in the 90s and early 2000s when the teams were good and the writing on the wall for the next collective bargaining agreement (in 2017) is another owner victory that will further squeeze money from the players.
So if there was ever a time in the modern era to dip into the tax, this would be the time, especially if Bird is in his ear telling him that he really believes this team can get its magic back.
3. Another Cost-Cutting Move Is Coming Next If Lance Re-Signs
So say Lance does take the deal and all the Miles/Rudez/Whittington moves do put the Pacers above the tax. And Bird has been instructed to stay below it.
How can that happen?
Well, maybe Bird has already planned for that and has a bigger deal to shake things up (in addition to waiving Luis Scola, which is presumed to be happening just to make the initial offer). Perhaps Roy Hibbert and/or George Hill being moved is already in the cards and Bird knows how he can take back less in salary than he ships out.
In less drastic fashion, perhaps Bird has similar deals involving Ian Mahinmi and/or Chris Copeland. Giving both of those guys away (to teams under the cap, for example) could shave a bunch of millions off the payroll.
Or perhaps Simon won´t pay the tax but he has authorized Bird to use the ¨stretch provision¨ to remove Copeland and/or Mahinmi off the books. Here, we fall back into adding and subtracting $500Ks of minutiae, but such creative moves could free up another few million.
By making so many small moves today, the writing on the wall may seem like Lance isn´t coming back. That could definitely be the case. But it isn´t definitively so.
The Pacers front office has a knack for not leaking much, so it isn´t out of the question that there are other factors at play behind the scenes.
More to come, one way or the other, for sure.