A decisive summer awaits the Indiana Pacers and we’ll try to cover it all in our second annual summer Matthes Manifesto, and third overall.
Many words follow, most focused on the options facing the Indiana Pacers in a key summer. Seven free agents are on the books, making change a very real possibility.
How many return, and who are the best/most practical replacements for those who do not return?
We’ll start at the point.
Darren Collison, 32, free agent | Cory Joseph, 28, free agent | Aaron Holiday, 23, signed until ’21 |
The situation facing both Darren Collison and Cory Joseph is well known, they’re both about to enter free agency. Collison is almost impressively under-appreciated as a Pacer, who’s three-point accuracy and the assist-to-turnover ratio was at an elite level during his second stint with the blue-and-gold.
Collison is probably more of a victim of the fact that he’s “Darren Collison” and will be 32 next season instead of his contributions on the court. Joseph’s still a stabilizing presence in the second unit, but his rougher play in the season’s stretch run probably made most fans forget the contributions he has made. Finding trustworthy backup point guards is not easy, and Joseph is one of them.
Moving on from Joseph might end up being a grass-is-greener situation for the fans who have soured on the Canadian.
Aaron Holiday delivered an impressive rookie season without putting up really any impressive numbers. It’s probably because Holiday entered with such low expectations that anything positive he did continually caught people off guard.
This being said Holiday wasn’t bad either, he played like a typical rookie, inconistently. For the Pacers to maximize the roster going forward, Holiday will have to step into a more consistent and bigger role next season. Or be traded, as part of a package for a more impactful player.
Free Agent Options
The important thing to note: Indiana is in the same boat as at least three other teams (Minnesota, Orlando, and Utah) when it comes to point guard, so almost everything in this section can be said about them as well.
However, the Pacers do have the most potential cap space…just keep that in mind.
The unrestricted free agent market is dominated by the two big names (Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker) with only one (Walker) being a remotely plausible option. Walker’s case became more complicated when he made the All-NBA third team (see the Charlotte section well below). If Walker turns down Charlotte and their money, it will likely be for an opportunity to play on a team with both money and a real chance at the playoffs, which gives Indiana a decent shot.
In Indiana he could play with another all-star, on a younger team, he’d boost Indiana into contender status, and he’d still get a nice pay day because Indiana has the space to deliver. The first hurdle would be Walker needing to turn down Charlotte, the second hurdle is that Indiana will have a lot of competition for the three-time all-star.
A buyer beware for Walker, he’ll be 29 this upcoming season, and under-sized point guards rarely play great into their 30’s. Chris Paul’s first dud season (loosely used) came this past year at age 33. A 4-year deal for Walker would take him through his age 32 season, cutting it close. Might not be a factor, but worth noting.
Normally restricted free agency isn’t worth the time spent pondering it (there are no bargains to be had), but then there’s D’Angelo Russell. Russell’s Nets have their eyes on bigger fish (see the Brooklyn section), and if Brooklyn lands Irving,
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Russell becomes expendable (either sign-and-trade bait or just regular old-fashioned free agency). The 2019 All-Star can be had, but it will come at a very steep cost, especially if Walker stays in the Queen City. All things equal, Indiana’s toughest competition would probably be Utah who also has an athletic two-guard (Donovan Mitchell) that Russell could play with. But then again, the simplest path to playoff success will still probably be in the East; and Indiana is much closer to his hometown (Louisville) than Salt Lake City is.
The rest of the free agent market is less than enthralling. There the retreads (Utah’s Ricky Rubio, Minnesota’s Derrick Rose), the unestablished (New Orleans’ Elfrid Payton, Dallas’ Trey Burke), combo guards (Houston’s Austin Rivers, Clippers’ Patrick Beverly who would be an excellent signing, actually), backups, unlikely-to-sign restricted free agents (Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon) and maybe Miami’s Goran Dragic, if he opts out of his contract. A backup who would be a blast in Indiana would be Portland’s Seth Curry, not as a starter but as a gunner off the bench, which is how Portland successfully used him.
A bonus intriguing option: George Hill will surely be waved at some point by Milwaukee. In order to add to their roster, while keeping the principals in tact, Hill’s mostly non-guaranteed $18M will need to allocated elsewhere. The soon to be 33-year old Hill does not play starter’s minutes regularly anymore, but he could still be a valuable contributor in a second unit, and he’ll probably be a cheeper option than retaining either Collison or Joseph.
It is a short list of point guards on the trade market that would be notable improvements over Collison. It’s just one: Mike Conley Jr. of Memphis. The Indianapolis native, frequently gets billed as both old and injury-prone, look again. If Conley is old, then he has a weird way of showing it, last season was one of the best of his career.
Conley scored a full 6 points above his average and was one of the most sure-handed point guards in the league (3.5 assists-turnover ratio was tied for best in the league among starting point guards). Injury prone: while he was hurt in 2018, it was the only time in his career he played less than 53 games, and he’s played in 70 or more games in 7 of his 12 seasons (last year included).
For reference, the average NBA player played in roughly 56 games last season, a feat accomplished by Conley every year of his career, except for two. The main hurdle in acquiring Conley is that many other teams will be seeking his services as well. For the teams with less cap space than Indiana (Boston and Utah for example), he’ll be the more practical option.
Some might be thinking now: “wait, Chris Paul’s available too! There’s a second option!” And if this was 2014 Chris Paul, or even 2016 Chris Paul then, yes, a capital idea, borrow Doc Brown’s Delorean and go for it.
Unfortunately, the trade target is the 2019 version who just authored either his worst or second worse season of his esteemed 14-year career. He is entering his age-34 season, with $124.1M owed to him over the next three seasons. If you think Mike Conley is overpaid, too old and injury-prone (which I understand, but respectfully disagree), but think Paul is a fantastic option then you are delusional.
Two intriguing prospects will certainly be available at 18. The first is Virginia’s Ty Jerome. He’s a combo guard in the mold of Golden State’s Shaun Livingston or the Clippers’ Landry Shamet. Jerome can play both on and off the ball, offering the offense flexibility.
He’s long for a point guard, which he uses to his advantage, and he’s clever with his positioning allowed him to slink through the lane. Defensively he’s solid and would adjust well to Indiana’s system and culture.
The other option probably needs no introduction: Carsen Edwards of Purdue. What Edwards would bring is not defensive prowess, but rather aggressive and confident offense. He’s similar to a more stout, less lanky Lou Williams, bring him off the bench and let him go.
Now, that style does not exactly mesh with the Pacers modus operandi but, on the other hand, if you’re looking for someone who can create his own shot there are few players in this draft with a more illustrated ability to do that than Edwards.
Others to consider: Second round: St. John’s scorer Shamorie Ponds, Auburn sergeant Jared Harper and the lanky Jaylen Hands from UCLA.