Without Jarrett Jack, I think it's safe to say that the Pacers either need a new starting PG, or a quality backup. The trouble is, they can't afford the starting-quality PGs out there in free agency (Ramon Sessions, Andre Miller, Raymond Felton) and the backups available in the open market have just as many question marks as the guys on the current roster. This team still needs one more wing player, a backup big and another player, probably a point guard, just to field 14. As IncredibleFAULK detailed in his recent fanpost, there is some salary cap flexibility and some room to maneuver, despite doom-and-gloom talk from a group of certain ESPN pundits.
Bird's said time and again that he would address the holes in the roster with trades AND free agency. Though I've mentioned some of these strategies before, I think it's time Bird got on the ball and started getting some of these supposed trades and signings done. Most of us appear to agree that the Dahntay Jones signing was a good start, so here's my list of priorities going forward, in order of importance, assuming the Pacers don't match Jack, and some options of how the Pacers might address them.
1. Get a reliable point guard-Easier said than done, as we've talked about. If the Pacers feel that Ford is a backup, they need a starter who's just as good as Jack. If they want to start Ford, they need someone who's a little more of a sure thing than Diener or Price. The options are limited.
Trade Option-I'd like to see Jeff Foster swapped for Raymond Felton in a sign-and-trade. We know the Bobcats have had interest in Foster before. They're on the cusp of a playoff berth, and Foster could add toughness they need to get there. Felton has fallen out of Larry Brown's favor, as he seemed more interested in giving D.J. Augustin playing time last year. Felton is still a very good player; he's the type of PG that can compliment guys like Danny Granger and Brandon Rush. I'm not sure that his ceiling is as high as Jack's, and he definitely can't shoot as well. But he's a better defender and a more natural distributor in the open floor. I don't think acquiring him automatically makes Indiana a playoff team, but he'd be as valuable as Foster in the long-haul, at a position of greater need. A draft pick may need to be included to make the Bobcats give up Felton, who was their starter last year. That, and the long-term deal they'd have to sign Felton to, may make Bird balk.
Trade Plan B-Troy Murphy to Philadelphia for Andre Miller (sign and trade). The only reason I think this would work is that Miller is apparently looking for more money than anyone is willing to offer him and he doesn't do what the Sixers need the most help with, three point shooting. Enter Murphy, who's coming off of his best season, at least as a Pacer. I doubt many think this is a good deal, but if Miller could be convinced to sign for about $9 mil a year and the Sixers were willing to throw in Thad Young (Indiana would definitely have to include a draft pick for this to even come close to happening) the money would match and the Pacers would fill two needs.
Free Agent Options-There aren't many. As I said, the Pacers can't afford to just sign any elite free agents they want, but there are some less exciting options out there who could fit. C.J. Watson, Anthony Carter, Tyronn Lue, Jacque Vaughn and Royal Ivey are some who could provide some veteran leadership at a bargain. We know Bird's looked at Carter and combo guard Luther Head.
It's a mystery what the Pacers will do at PG, but something tells me Bird will save money. If I can't have Felton, I'd like Watson, who's gotten some good reviews this summer and has experience playing in an up-tempo system.
2. Get rid of Jamaal Tinsley-The Pacers will have to wait until after Tinsley's arbitration hearing, but chances are nobody's going to trade for him no matter what, and I think we all know he won't be in a Pacers uni next year. It makes no sense to just have him sit there soaking up cap space and getting fat playing NBA2k10 with Steph Marbury, so that leaves...
Buyout-If the Pacers don't get anything for Tinsley (and they probably won't), they have to go back on their word and aggressively pursue the buyout option. This could actually save the Pacers a couple million in cap space that they can use on a PG who can actually play. Tinsley has two years and about 15 million left on his contract. He could accept a buyout that paid him 6 this year and 6 next. It would suck, but it would close the book on the Tinsley years and give the team a small amount of cap space. Every penny counts in these trying times.
Best case scenario-My fantasy has the Pacers sending Tinsley and a 2nd round pick to New York for Jared Jeffries.
3. Add a fourth wing-The Pacers have to get a scoring wing to play off the bench in Mike Dunleavy's absence. Replaceing Dunleavy's ball-handling and three point shooting will not be easy with the money they have to spend, but there are options.
Trade Option-I've posted before that I like Ford to Portland for Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster, but with Jack probably gone, the team needs Ford more than ever, and with the Dahntay Jones signing, the team doesn't need two wings, just one. There are other trades that involve Foster (and I only keep including him because he's a good chip, not because I don't like him...and getting rid of his contract now makes sense if the team can get expiring deals in return). I think contenders will want Foster in their post rotation because of his rebounding and playoff experience, but it may have to wait until the trade deadline. Foster to LA for Adam Morrison and Jordan Farmar (two expiring deals that address two needs) is a good one, as is Foster to San Antonio for Roger Mason and Matt Bonner (two more expiring contracts, two more needs).
Free Agent Option-The market is actually pretty saturated with viable backup wing options that the Pacers could afford. Ime Udoka, Desmond Mason and Rodney Carney could all sign between the team's bi-annual exception (about 2 mil) and what's left of their mid-level exception (between 2 and 3 mil). My favorite is Udoka, an aggressive defensive specialist. With him, Jones and (my dream) Jeffries coming off the bench, nobody's scoring on the Pacers in the fourth quarter.
4. Add a fifth (or fourth, if Foster is traded) big-If Foster is traded, Josh McRoberts won't do it; the Pacers will need someone with more experience. If the team keeps Foster, they could feel safe signing McRoberts as the fifth big.
Trade Option-Without Ford as a trading chip, there's not much the Pacers can do by way of securing a low-cost big without giving up a big of their own. Rush could be a chip, but if he is they'd better not accept anything less than an All-Star-level big (like Rush, Murphy and Ford for Amare Stoudemire...and even that doesn't necessarily make this team good enough to make a top 4 seed).
Free Agent Option-As much as many of us hate the idea of paying Josh McRoberts over a million a year, he may be the best bet. The Pacers have the inside track to sign him, he's energetic, young, and had a limitless ceiling in college. Most scouts said that if he'd added a few things to his game, like muscle, toughness and a handle, he would have been a lottery pick. I know those days are long gone, but Kwame Brown's still floating around the league based on his no. 1 overall status, so why not give McRoberts (a guy with limited talent but some remaining potential and plenty of energy) the benefit of the doubt and say that he's still young enough to realize some of that hype that followed him through college? It wouldn't be a huge gamble.