Indiana Pacers: Re-signing TJ Warren may be far from a guarantee

More than a year ago, the NBA was caught off-guard by the adroit scoring exploits of TJ Warren. Peaking with a career-high 53-point performance to lead the Indiana Pacers over the 76ers, the 6’8 forward ended the Orlando Bubble with an All-Seeding Games First Team nod. The Blue and Gold’s trade for the scorer in the 2019 offseason, which literally costed them spare change, suddenly looked like deft front office theft.

Still, it’s not like Warren’s explosion in the Bubble came out of the blue. Alas, his acuity with scoring from all over the floor was the primary impetus for the Pacers to snag him away from Phoenix, which clearly had a different plan in tow back then. With a much-improved defensive ability, Indiana found itself with a starting small forward that can hang with the best of them and serve as a main option on offense. The best part? His contract was pure bargain.

While the insanity of Warren’s Orlando run is still picturesque in the minds of many, his stature in the Circle City has lied low since then. To the chagrin of everyone, the frisky Indiana injury bug bit him hard, as he missed all but four games last season. It’s no coincidence that the Pacers struggled without him and missed the playoffs.

The Indiana Pacers may have to think twice about re-signing TJ Warren

Into the present, the 28-year-old has yet to log a single minute on the court due to the same injury, though most signs point to him returning at some point in the present campaign. However, not all that glitters is golden.

Despite Warren’s clear alpha role on offense and wild efficiency at scoring, he hasn’t been in NBA hardwood action for more than a year. The rust is real and the difficult part is getting him acclimated to the Pacers’ new pecking order. Incorporating his iso-heavy game to Indiana’s ball movement style may seem awkward at first, tricky even.

Beyond the on-court storyline, however, is the ripple effect of TJ Warren’s continued absence on his future with the team. Now on the final year of his bargain contract, he will have to prove that he should still be regarded as a legitimate building block for the Blue and Gold, especially with his prime years now on deck.

Players with scoring profiles like Warren are in no way slated for deliberate bargains. While his injury may temper the numbers a bit, one thing’s for sure: keeping him will not be a piece of cake. Fortunately, the Indiana Pacers hold his Bird rights and can go beyond the cap to sign him to a new deal. Now, will they be willing to pay the luxury tax? Winning will be the determinant.

Warren doesn’t have too much leverage either, with the 2022 free agency projected to only have, well, three teams with cap space: Detroit, San Antonio, and Orlando. All of those teams are in clear rebuilding modes and exhausting their money for a veteran piece may be counterintuitive with their respective timelines.

Considering TJ Warren’s above-average play at the small forward position, I’m personally leaning towards the team re-upping with him for a new deal, especially if he makes a seamless return during the season. However, the Indiana Pacers now have the luxury of having options, unlike before. Ultimately, with in-house alternatives now in store, keeping the talented scorer in the Circle City may now be a question to ponder on instead of a certainty to breeze through.