Why Solomon Hill Will Likely Never Play for the Pacers Again

May 1, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Indiana Pacers forward Solomon Hill (44) dunks a basket past Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) in game seven of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
May 1, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Indiana Pacers forward Solomon Hill (44) dunks a basket past Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) in game seven of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers can only offer Solomon Hill $2.3 million this offseason, so the 25-year-old forward is all but gone forever.

When the Indiana Pacers declined to pick up the fourth-year, $2.3 million option in Solomon Hill’s rookie contract last November, it was a reasonable choice. He had played awfully in Summer League — as a 24-year-old no less — and didn’t project to be rotation player for the team going forward.

But folllowing an excellent stretch of play late in the season after being re-inserted into the lineup and a breakout series against the Toronto Raptors, that is no longer the case.

The decision now looks like a big blunder for a team that lacks young talent. And as much as Larry Bird wants to rationalize the decision, losing Solomon Hill will be a setback. It has never been easy to find good players for $2.3 million dollars — and it will only be harder now that the salary cap is making an unprecedented jump to $92 million this offseason.

Bird’s choice on Hill has cost this team a rotation player that could have been had for pennies.

Solomon Hill’s Redemption

Solomon Hill was a completely different player in the playoffs and at the end of the regular season. In the seven-game series with the Toronto Raptors, he shot 45.2% from the field and 57.9% from beyond the arc. While the 7.7 points a game doesn’t sound that impressive on the surface, you have to remember he’s only taking 4.4 shots a game.

Solo has always been a standout on-ball defender. Frank Vogel was always comfortable putting him on even the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But against the Raptors, he showed he might have the chance to be more. He started to look like the 3-and-D player the Pacers hoped he could become.

Why Solomon Hill Is Gone

Given his good play, Solomon Hill will likely be resigned, right?


Because the Pacers declined his $2.3 million option, the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement limits the Pacers to offering him the $2.3 million he was set to receive. The reasoning for this is to close a loophole that would otherwise all teams from circumventing the rookie pay scale.

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For example, the league can’t have the Minnesota TImberwolves making an under-the-table deal with Karl-Anthony Towns to decline his relatively low-paying, third-year rookie option and then turn around and offer him the max.

Really, this triviality in the collective bargaining agreement is not intended to affect the Solo situation. The Pacers legitimately didn’t think he was worth keeping around anymore at $2.3 million in November and then (presumably) now do. But it doesn’t matter. All rookies deals, no matter if they are middling role players or future MVPs, are governed by the same terms.

So Solomon Hill, after his breakout playoffs, will end up being offered more — some say a lot more — than $2.3 million. And unless his agent and family are highly illogical, Hill will sign with another team and leave the Pacers.

Why Larry Bird Declined Solomon Hill’s Option

The question about the unfortunate situation of the Pacers losing Solomon Hill is whether it was a bad decision or a bad outcome. Of course, declining his option now looks like a really dumb decision. But things were in a different place when they declined it on November 2.

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Larry Bird, according to recent comments, had lost faith in Hill. Despite Solo leading the team in minutes last season, he did not show a lot of growth. The season before as a starter, Hill averaged 8.9 points on 39.6% shooting, 32.7% from beyond the arc. And he finished horribly at the rim.

Now, Hill has always been a good running mate on the break and has even shown good decision-making skills when pushing the rock himself. He cuts well in the half court and generally understands where to be. So while he wasn’t terrible — and some of those stats were dragged down by being overused within a bad offense during the Paul George-less “Lost Year” — he wasn’t an offensive threat either.

So Bird likely looked at this, plus Solo’s tragic Summer League play, and decided he would rather have a few more dollars of cap space.

As it stands now, the Pacers can create roughly $32.4 million in cap space this offseason. When Bird made his decision (before the NBA revised its cap estimate upward), that number was $30.4 million — if he declined Solomon Hill’s option. Keeping Solo pushes that down to around $28.1 million. And then if you add in Ian Mahinmi’s cap hold, we’re talking about only $20.5 million to spend.

That is a number below the max salary for even restricted free agents (and few-years-of-service-guys like Hassan Whiteside). So by cutting ties with Solo’s deal, Bird knew he would have at least $22.8 million to play with. That’s right around what the young-player max projection was at the time and within sniffing distance (that could be found with a minor creative move or two) of a max offer for older players like Mike Conley.

In a different situation — like essentially every other season of the past 15 when Indiana has not had any cap room — maybe Bird keeps Solo. There is essentially no downside to having a disappointing, but cheap and serviceable, guy on the roster for $2.3 million in a normal year. But Bird knew he could get more cap room by declining.

Since the season ended, the president of the Pacers has said that Hill was out of shape and showing a bad attitude as the season began. That’s why he declined the option. And he even took some credit for Solo’s good play later, saying that the option decision lit a fire under the forward.

That may be accurate. But it still seems unlikely that Bird loses faith in Solo over $2.3 million in a year when that money wouldn’t have mattered in free agency.

How the Solo Decision Looks Now

Regardless of how you feel about Bird’s decision-making process in November, the outcome is bad. Solomon Hill is worth much more than $2.3 million and the development he has gotten in Indiana means that it won’t shock anyone if he goes on to become a useful player for another team very soon.

Just look what he did to close the year.

In his final seven games of the regular season, Solomon was a 54% shooter, and more impressively, made 48.1% of his 3-point attempts, which translates to just short of 2 made triples a game. He also finished better at the rim.

Those seven games could have been seen as nothing if he hadn’t followed it up with seven more games in the playoffs. Obviously, 14 games isn’t a whole season — or even a large chunk — but it is enough to fuel intrigue.  More than the stats, Hill showed his professionalism by staying ready all year despite losing his rotation spot to the likes of Chase Budinger and Glenn Robinson, III. He played stellar defense whenever called upon, he made hustle plays all over the court, and was a wonderful presence for the team on the bench and in the locker room.

Suddenly, the whole league thinks Solomon Hill is worth much more than the $2.3 million Indiana could have been paying him in 2016-17. So it is likely that Solomon Hill has played his last game with the Indiana Pacers, and Larry Bird will have to live with what, even if not a bad decision, has been a pretty bad outcome for a team that needs reliable players.

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Unless Solomon Hill wants to turn down several million dollars, Indiana has seen the last of him. At least his last two points were pretty memorable.