Newleywed Mike Wells checked in with Larry Bird on the Pacers salary cap issues and the willingness of the Simons to make moves that would exceed the cap and result in a luxury tax for the team. The shor answer: No way!
"We're up around $69 million right now and we don't want to go over the tax," Bird said. "You always like to save some money, but the thing is, our owners are not going to save money and not have a productive team out there, especially when we did the deals we did this summer. I think it's being able to move some pieces to get the type of player we want at (power forward)."
The luxury tax threshold is $71.150 million, so moving Tinsley could free up a little money, but any big move prior to the season would also require moving other big contracts on the roster.
I have absolutely no problem with the Pacers sticking to budget and avoiding the luxury tax. If the team was a player, maybe two, away from championship contention, sure, I'd implore everyone at the Fieldhouse to go all in and not worry about the luxury tax. But that's just not the case right now.
They are trying to rebuild the foundation of the team and really need flexibility going forward. Keeping room available under the cap makes manuevering much easier.
I'm still disillusioned with the burden Jermaine O'Neal's max contract put on the franchise. It became an anchor, forcing the team to react slower than Gheorge Muresan. Face it, Indy is a small market team and will always have trouble luring free agents. Fine. Figure out a system that works for the franchise to keep it flexible and successful. To do this, the front office has to make tough decisions and sometimes very unpopular choices.
One idea would be to avoid signing players to long term max contracts, especially the second time around. Assuming a player demanding a max deal is valuable, sign and trade said player for younger players, expiring contracts and/or picks. Then dip into your assets to pick up max (or close to max) contract-type players with only 2 or 3 years remaining on their big contract. No high impact players available? No problem. Bank the picks and players or make smaller deals to bolster areas of need on the roster.
This would be a tough plan to follow and would require success before the general fan base bought in. Since you're essentially trading the best (and probably most popular) players and flipping them for future unknowns the team would be in constant PR mode. But making tough, smart choices is the only option for a small market team that can't throw money at their problems to move past mistakes.