According to updated salary projections for the 2013-2014 season, the Pacers have committed to a payroll of $66,075,000 for the upcoming year. This total includes the newly signed contracts of David West ($12,000,000), C.J. Watson ($2,016,000), and Donald Sloan ($884,293). However, because the Knicks have the opportunity to match the Pacers offer sheet, it does not include the estimated $3,000,000 they committed to Chris Copeland. Therefore, if the Knicks decline to match the Pacers offer sheet (which they will since they are already over the luxury tax line for the upcoming season), it appears that the Pacers salaries will equal $69,075,000 for the 2013-2014 season.
This $69,075,000 salary figure becomes very meaningful when compared to what the NBA recently released as the set tax level for 2013-2014. According to the league office, the tax line will be $71,748,000. As many know, Larry Bird and ownership have made it abundantly clear that the Pacers will not be luxury tax payers under any circumstances next season. Earlier this week the Indianapolis Star reported Bird's thoughts on the Pacers ability to pay the luxury tax next season with Bird stating:
Our owner went out and did everything he could this year so we could be close to the tax. We just can't fight the tax. It's always going to be a disadvantage for us.Of course, it is no secret that small market teams face obstacles that do not plague some of the NBA's more premier, large market squads. The OKC Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies are some of the most recent examples of small markets having to give up great assets and talent in order to avoid a tax bill and the increased penalties imposed by the new CBA. Most vigilant Pacers fans know that their team may be forced to say good-bye to one of their own core players at the trade deadline or next offseason the same way the Thunder and Grizzlies had to bid adieu to James Harden and Rudy Gay in 2012-2013. Could it be that Pacers fans will have to watch lifelong Pacer Danny Granger be traded or walk to another squad and don a new uniform? Will the Pacers choose to not resign Lance Stephenson? Or will it be that fans witness their, at long last, drafted superstar, Paul George, signing a max contract with another team that the Pacers are unable to match? All of the sudden that $69,075,000 number becomes very real. The Pacers walk a fine line of supplementing a squad capable of winning the NBA championship next season while risking being forced to lose a major component of their team next summer.
Perhaps, all of these salary cap and luxury tax complications factor in to why newly contracted assistant coach Nate McMillan stated recently that small market contenders like the Pacers have a brief 1-2 year window to win a championship. The Pacers already had to rescind their qualifying offer to Tyler Hansbrough in order to redirect their resources elsewhere and shed salary. This move left Frank Vogel reportedly telling Pacers reporter, Scott Agnes, that he would be "open-minded" to playing Mahinmi or Plumlee at backup PF. Ian is already slated to be the only back-up center for Roy Hibbert this season since the departure of Jeff Pendergraph to the San Antonio Spurs. Sure, Miles Plumlee has had some encouraging moments this week at Summer League blocking shots, rebounding, hustling, and showing some improved moves around the rim - but back-up power forward? Understandably, the Pacers felt it most necessary to fortify a bench that struggled to score throughout most of the regular season and postseason. Most would agree they were moderately successful in that area. The Pacers replaced reluctant back-up D.J. Augustine with proven second unit point guard C.J. Watson. Chris Copeland has reportedly signed an offer sheet to give the Pacers a much needed stretch 3 point shooter off the bench. Donald Sloan committed to be the third string point guard. And, of course, no one will forget that a healthy Danny Granger or Lance Stephenson will be a much needed addition to the second unit.
With all of these offseason acquisitions, that $69,075,000 salary figure is dangerously close to the luxury tax line leaving this writer to believe that the Pacers are likely done with free agent additions. But the reality is, should the Pacers be done? If fans have been following the other Eastern Conference rivals' moves this offseason they will notice that a lot of talented bigs have congregated on this side of the Mississippi River: Detroit now boasts a front line of Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond, the Cavs just signed Andrew Bynum to pair with Anderson Varejao, the Nets have acquired KG via trade to play alongside all-star Brook Lopez, Paul Millsap has signed on with Al Horford and the Hawks, Al Jefferson signed a lucrative contract with the Bobcats, and one could venture a more than probable guess that Greg Oden will likely soon be joining the reigning champion Miami Heat. Not to mention that Tyson Chandler still plays for the Knicks and division rival, Joakim Noah, will still be suiting up for the Bulls next season. This is not to say that any of these frontlines are necessarily better than the Pacers starting frontcourt, it simply means a lot of wear and tear for David West and Roy Hibbert next season. With all of this in mind, it certainly seems like the Pacers should have been or should be in the market for a true back-up power forward. (DeJuan Blair, anyone?) But of course, needs do not always equal financial means. The $69,075,000 in committed salaries does not leave much to spend on a back-up power forward, if anything at all, with the tax looming at right around $71 million.
So there it is fellow Pacers fans, the reality of being a small market, non-taxpaying championship contender in today's NBA. Where it is necessary to keep an "open-mind" about playing Ian Mahinmi or Miles Plumlee out of position at power forward. Where it might be necessary to say good-bye to a lifelong Pacer next summer. Where your team might be one or two small acquisitions away from winning a championship. What are your thoughts? Should the Pacers have passed on Copeland, Sloan, or Watson in order to redirect funds to a power forward? Will the Pacers be done in free agency for this summer? Will one of the Pacers core players likely be traded or forced to walk because of the luxury tax? Did the new CBA really make the NBA more competitive? One last thought, though it is sometimes distasteful to fans (especially in today's economy), maybe if players did not take discounts and always pursued the most lucrative offer available, super teams in large markets would not be able to form. If all stars only signed max contracts, it seems that they would all be a lot more evenly dispersed across all 30 markets. Nevertheless, it is difficult to solve the small-market dilemma, but some teams have overcome and thrived in spite of not being one of the league's premier large markets - just look at the four time champion San Antonio Spurs. Let's just hope the Spurs can be a model for the Indiana Pacers, and that $69,075,000 in committed payroll is not a price tag that reflects the immense quality of the hopeful 2013-2014 NBA Champions.