Reviewing the Pacers' Free Agent Class of 2009

With everyone buzzing about the Free Agent class available this summer, I thought it might be worthwhile to look back at how the Pacers did last year. Going into last summer, our stated goals of free agency were to upgrade the team's defense and find a back-up point guard to replace Jarrett Jack. Backcourt minutes that went to Marquis Daniels last year needed to be filled as well. Serious financial constraints created a need for small, short contracts. Potential trades scenarios with Boston and others popped up and then disappeared. In the end the Pacers brought in 4 players:

Obviously, the season didn't turn out as hoped in terms of wins and losses. Any evaluation of these players needs to be tempered by the lack of team success. After the jump let's try to tease out the individual contributions of each of these players, and the value the Pacers received by signing them.

The first metric I looked at was Win Shares. This is a statistic with its supporters and detractors, but it is an easy way to assign a numeric value to a player's overall contribution to the team. The nice thing is that a player's Win Score, when combined with their teammates, will correlate closely with the actual Win Total for their team. For example, the Win Shares for all the Pacers this year total 33.9. As I'm sure everyone remembers, the team finished with 32 actual wins. For more information on Win Shares and how it is calculated check out this article at Basketball Reference.   

To begin, I put together a simple table, comparing each new Pacer's Win Shares for this season to the salary that they were paid. With the goal of keeping salaries down this can give us an idea of how much production the team got for their money.

Player Win Shares '09-'10 Salary $ Per Win Share

Dahntay Jones

1.8

2,500,000.00

1,388,888.89

Earl Watson

2.6

2,800,000.00

1,076,923.08

Luther Head

0.6

884,881.00

1,474,801.67

Solomon Jones

0.8

1,620,000.00

2,025,000.00

           
Obviously, the Win Share totals put up by these four are limited by the minutes they played. The Pacers won 32 games this year with a total payroll of $66,914,689. This means they spent an average of $2,091,084 per win. To put this into context, the most efficient franchise this season was the Oklahoma City Thunder, who spent an average of $1.12 million per win. The four least efficient franchises were the Nets, Timberwolves, Wizards and Knicks; who spent an average of $6.01 million, $4.19 million, $2.85 million and $2.81 million respectively (These numbers come from a great piece by Ian Thomsen, found here). Although Watson, Head and the Joneses didn't provide much in terms of win quantity, their value seems to compare favorably to the rest of the roster and the league in general.        

As I mentioned above, the other idea was to maintain future flexibility by signing players to shorter contracts. Luther Head was signed to a 1-yr. deal, and will most likely be gone next year. Dahntay Jones has 3 more years left on his deal, and will be 33 by the time it expires. At this point in his career, he is a known commodity, and it is not likely the Pacers will benefit from a spike in his skill development. Even so, if he can maintain his production from this season, and become a more consistent outside shooter, then I think his signing is a net positive for the team. He plays hard every night and seems willing to fill whatever role he is asked to fill. His defense wasn't as good as advertised but he certainly doesn't hurt the team in this area.

When looking at the contract lengths for Solomon Jones and Watson, things become a little more murky. The plan was for T.J. Ford to return to form this season and for A.J. Price to develop into a solid back-up. Unfortunately, Ford's production fell off a cliff, and Watson played well in assuming the starting role. As Ford will most likely pick up his player option for next year, the team is left in a complicated situation heading into the summer. Price is not ready to be a starting point guard. Except for John Wall, who is likely out of reach, the draft is painfully thin at point guard. Unless they want to go back to Ford, which I doubt, the Pacers are left needing to add a starting point guard in free agency. There are several options available; Luke Ridnour, Raymond Felton, going back to Watson, and others. My concern is that after strong seasons, players like these will be looking for solid raises and the security of longer contracts. If the Pacers had gotten a 2-yr. deal with Watson last season they would be all set. Instead, they face the possibility of paying significantly more for similar production to what they received this year.

My opinion on Solomon Jones' contract is polar opposite to Watson's. I don't understand the thinking of locking him up for 2-yrs. Entering last season the Pacer's frontcourt rotation was slated to include Roy Hibbert, Jeff Foster, Troy Murphy, Tyler Hansbrough, and Josh McRoberts. I have no problem with adding Jones. He is athletic and had shown some defensive potential. It was possible he would bloom with increased playing time. The move should have been to sign him for a year, and see what happened. Instead, we head towards next season with an improved Hibbert, a healthy Foster, a healthy Hansbrough, Murphy, a greatly improved McRoberts, and a likely first round draft pick. Minutes are going to be hard to come by and Jones' salary will probably bring minimal production.

In retrospect, the Pacers did a decent job working within their limitations last summer. Their free agent additions provided value for the dollars spent. With a little foresight Watson could have gotten a 2-yr deal and Solomon Jones a 1-yr. deal. Despite this flaw, they didn't drastically overpay or overextend anyone, maintaining some flexibility for this summer and next. There were no home runs, but it was clear from the beginning that they weren't swinging for the fences. The key will be to take these same lessons into their free agent search this summer. Don't overspend. Look for value. Maintain flexibility.  

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