It's difficult to project or even suggest what the Pacers' should be doing this summer with so much still up in the air. Every bit of their financial situation is in flux as the league and Player's Association negotiate a new CBA. In addition, the team doesn't even have a coach and may not hire one until the new CBA is in place.
I do feel fairly confident though, in making a few pronouncements. The Pacers are not in a place where they can turn down opportunities to add talent, regardless of the position or fit. Despite the positive note on which they ended the season, the Pacers are not just a piece or two away. Instead of looking to fill certain holes, the Pacers will hopefully be focused on adding talent and finding value. Roster moves should only be made if they fit both needs. The Pacers can't overpay for talent. They also can't afford to use a roster spot or spend money on a less talented player who seems to fill a specific need (see Jones, Solomon).
I've stated my position on this before, but as long as the costs are reasonable and the contract lengths can be kept to three years or less, I think re-signing Jeff Foster, Mike Dunleavy and Josh McRoberts is a no-brainer. I've also been pretty vocal about my belief that the team should free up a roster spot by dropping A.J. Price, and his non-guaranteed contract.
The suggestion of re-signing Dunleavy will probably encounter the most resistance from readers. Perception of him is certainly colored by the tens of millions of dollars the Pacers have paid him over the past three seasons, mostly for disappointing production. The fact remains that they were much, much better with him on the floor each of the past three seasons, and particularly in the Bulls series. He has limitations, but also provides, leadership, shooting, ball handling and overall basketball acumen. Don't overpay for him. But if he's willing to come back for a reasonable price, I think the Pacers will be better off for having him.
The decision on Foster is a much easier one. He was healthy and very productive this season. Even if his body prevents him from playing quite so many minutes in the future, he will continue to be valuable on the floor and in the locker room. If he decides he'd like to keep playing basketball, he should absolutely continue to be a Pacer.
Josh McRoberts is where things start to get a little murky. His play this season was impressive enough that he may get an offer above his value to the Pacers. They probably can't afford to pay him 5 or 6 million a year, but I think they can absolutely afford to pay him 3 or 4. Even if he provides nothing more than depth, he's very productive and still developing. McRoberts has been in the league for four seasons. That makes it easy to forget that he's 23 and has played just 2,428 minutes in his career. That's fewer minutes than John Wall played, just this season. Seeing as how many of McRoberts' shortcomings seem to be related to court awareness and decision making, it stands to reason he could improve substantially with experience. As long as they're careful about costs, I don't see the downside. A worst case scenario would have McRobertsas a 3rd power forward behind Hansbrough and Player X. Building that depth seems like it would be an absolute win for the Pacers.
A.J. Price's contract is unguaranteed for next season. I might be in the minority, but I think he should probably be cut. Of all the players who attempted at least 300 shots this season, Price's FG% of 35.6% was the worst. He also had the 3rd worst 3PT% of players with at least 100 attempts, making just 27.5%. On his best day, nearly all of Price's value to the Pacers comes from his ability to shoot the ball. If he's going to make shots at among the lowest rates in the league, there is no reason to keep him around. His performance was a lot worse this season, but his career percentages still sit at 38.4% and 31.3%. He may not be as bad as his percentages this season, but he hasn't done anything to demonstrate he can be even an average shooter across an entire season. He's given the Pacers' more than they probably expected after taking him in the 2nd round, butstill hasn't shown enough for them to keep him around.
When it comes to the draft the Pacers could use scoring help, and regardless of what's done with Dunleavy, Foster, McRoberts and Price, there will be room for upgrades at both guard spots and in the frontcourt. Still, I don't think the Pacers' have the luxury of drafting on need. They should be selecting the best player available with both of those picks; fit should be a secondary concern.
Now some of you are probably getting a little sweaty in the palms as you do the math on my suggestions. Bringing back Foster, Dunleavy and McRoberts and adding two rookies, while cutting Price, leaves the Pacers with just one open roster spot. Though this may bring some heat, I'm also going to argue that roster spot should be left open. Unless a wonderful trade scenario appears, I'm essentially suggesting they enter next season with the same roster.
Here's my reasoning. They'd be paying a lot less for the same team. Entering next season with a more stable coaching situation, hopefully a rotation player from the draft, and reasonable improvement from George, Collison, McRoberts, Hansbrough and Hibbert should be worth a few extra wins. Drawing that connection means the Pacers organization could get a little bit more, while paying a lot less. Most importantly the cap space and open roster spot preserves the team's flexibility to makes moves in the future. Looking around at the players available through free agency or trades, I don't see anything plausible with a reasonable likelihood of improving the team's outlook by more than a few wins. I'd rather see improvement organically through player growth and maintain the team's ability to jump at a real home-run scenario if and when one presents itself.
Looking at the Pacers' possibilities for this summer the thing that scares me the most is the Detroit Pistons. Not next season's incarnation, but the 2009 Pistons. They entered the summer with a ton of cap space, missed out on some of their targets, before agreeing to pay Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon a combined 18 million a season for five years. The Pacers front office has worked hard to create the current payroll situation. I think it's crucial to recognize that this is just a step, not the endgame. The value of the cap space is not that it's money immediately freed up to be spent on whatever players are available. I'drather they not spend any of it, then spend it foolishly and create another five-year waiting period on having roster flexibility. There are plenty of free agents available who would help the Pacers improve next season. I'm not sure any of the marquee names would improve the team enough to merit sacrificing this prize, received for years of futility.