Why this Indiana Pacers offseason may not have been as good as you think

Kyle O'Quinn and Doug McDermott (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kyle O'Quinn and Doug McDermott (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The 2018 Indiana Pacers free agency period has been very well received by most people. But I’m here to tell you to pump the breaks.

This first sentence is important: overall, the Indiana Pacers 2018 offseason was good. It wasn’t sensational, and it wasn’t bad. It was good.

The front office did inherently good things. They kept their future flexibility. They improved the roster, and by a sizeable margin. In totality, they didn’t do anything stupid or crippling. That checks all the boxes of a good summer, right? I would say so.

And looking forward, things look great, too! Even after a big extension for Myles Turner, the organization could have over $40 million in cap space in the summer of 2019. A good offseason combined with what is considered by the consensus to be an exceptional future outlook sounds great. But I am here to dispute that.

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As a preface, I’m not sure what the exact moves the Indiana Pacers could have made this summer that would have been noticeably better than what they did. But I am much lower on the Pacers future outlook than most (at least cap wise). I think that the future of the organization is actually fairly gloomy.

“Why?’, you ask? Let’s go back to this summer for the start of the discussion. Specifically, the Tyreke Evans signing. The Evans signing was great. He will help the team a bunch this year. It also has a limited impact on the future of the Pacers since it is just a one-year deal. Speaking of one-year deals, a quick glance around the locker room shows us a bunch of guys with only one year left on their deal: Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Cory Joseph, Reke, Kyle O’Quinn, Ike Anigbogu, and Alize Johnson. That’s a loooong list.

Holistically, it isn’t a huge deal to lose some of those guys, assuming they all don’t get re-signed. But what does the brevity of their deals mean? In a broad sense, it means this: the Pacers enter next summer with no starting OR backup point guard, no reserve shooting guard, no starting small forward (unless you really believe in Doug McDermott), and no starting power forward (unless you really believe in TJ Leaf). Thankfully, they are set at center.

Alone, filling all of those needs with the allotted money (~$47 million) is possible. Heck, they are doing it literally right now. But filling those roles with the same players, or players with equal financial and on-court value means that the team doesn’t improve. What’s the point of using cap space just to bring everyone back and not improve? That is silly.

Cap holds cloud this thought exercise. A cap hold is a number that exists on the salary cap sheet for a free agent. If it stays on the books, the team loses cap space but keeps a version of the player’s Bird rights, which allows the team to go over the cap to sign that player. They could not quite get to that aforementioned $47 million in space because they could keep some cap holds on the books. They could even keep everyone’s cap hold on the books and just re-sign everyone. This team is pretty good, after all.

Kevin Pritchard of the Indiana Pacers
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – DECEMBER 13: Kevin Pritchard of the Indiana Pacers during the press conference announcing Indianapolis to host NBA All-Star 202 on December 13, 2017, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images) /

But using cap holds to bring everyone back becomes expensive for the team, and right before something important. The Pacers eventually have to pay Domantas Sabonis, something that almost assuredly has to be done given how well he has played. but doing so might take them into the tax if they re-sign everyone and add other guys. The Pacers have never paid the luxury tax, so this seems unlikely.

There is a balance. Perhaps the team opts to bring back some guys using their cap hold (and eating into their cap space) and some guys in free agency. But here’s the rub: almost every impending Pacers free agent has a higher cap hold than they are worth. $20,646,068 is Thaddeus Young’s cap hold. $14,880,000 is Tyreke Evans’. $13,650,000 is Bojan’s, $13,000,000 for Collison, and a whopping $15,095,500 for Cory Joseph. Woof.

If the Pacers want to operate as big spenders in free agency, they have to renounce the cap holds for all of those guys. And then you are back to the problem I described earlier: you have to fill five-ish key rotation slots with just $47 million, roughly $9 million a player. That’s Cory Joseph money.

Don’t get me wrong, CoJo is great. But losing some contributors just to add five CoJo level players won’t make the Pacers better.

On the flip side, the Pacers could use all the space on one start. Someone like Jimmy Butler, or perhaps a B level star, could be a way to improve the team in terms of firepower. But then you are left with a small amount of money to add a lot of key roles. That would make the team shallower, which could be fine, but it could be dangerous. One of the team’s strengths, as it stands, is its depth. That matters.

When you get into a situation where you have a lot of needs and a lot of cap space, you have to be incredibly careful. The Washington Wizards had this situation in 2016. They didn’t get any of the stars they were after with their cap space and they had a ton of needs to fill. They ended up signing a bunch of B level or C level free agents to big deals, and now they are stuck in salary cap hell.

All of this lengthy explanation was required to say that the Pacers are treading very lightly headed into the 2019 summer. Adding a big name free agent will substantially hurt their depth, and retaining a lot of the guys they have now will make the team successful while not really improving. It is a really sticky situation.

There are solutions. TJ Leaf could become a rotation level player. Aaron Holiday could become a backup point guard. Those will fill two holes for the Pacers and let them spend money elsewhere. But counting on either of those guys is a dangerous game. If they aren’t ready, then the team is worse. It’s that simple.

I think this summer the Pacers should have added some guys on longer terms deals so they had more of a roster in place next summer. It eats into their 2019 cap space, sure, but it helps them to sign players with the bundles of cap space they would have had anyway if they knew what else they had on the roster.

dark. Next. The end of the Indiana Pacers salary cap sheet

This is obviously all an opinion. The front office has shown time and time again they can navigate sticky situations. But I think the summer of 2019 is going to be a tough one for the Indiana Pacers. It will be fascinating to see how it shakes out.