In the absence of a discerning eye, it would have been hard to distinguish the Indiana Pacers' 2014-15 opening night player introductions from a funeral processional. For every few Pacers that entered the arena decked out in Blue-and-Gold garb signalling their readiness to play, out from the tunnel limped a member of the roster dourly dressed in a suit-and-tie symbolizing his status as one of the many ruled to be inactive.
Yes, the injury bug has most assuredly bitten - or, perhaps more aptly put, mauled - the Pacers:
- Paul George: out indefinitely (open tibia-fibula fracture)
- George Hill: out three weeks (left knee contusion)
- C.J. Watson: out two weeks (sore right foot)
- David West: out at least three games (sprained right ankle)
For a team in desperate need of a panacea, the possibility of applying for and being granted the NBA's hardship exception provides perhaps needed, but only short-term, relief. Larry Coon's NBA Salary Cap FAQ details what circumstances must transpire for a team to qualify for the exception:
"A hardship can be deemed to occur when a team has four players who are sick or injured and have missed at least three games, and will continue to be unable to play."
As explained here, the four injured Pacers must miss a minimum of three games before the team, if they so decide, can apply. Indiana will satisfy this temporal benchmark after playing the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. The guidelines also stipulate that those on the mend must be injured for at least two weeks. An independent physician has to determine the "return to play" and "how those players' returns would fit into the period of time the team would need the exception," per ESPN.com. With Paul George, George Hill, and C.J. Watson all expected to miss extended time, David West's time-frame for recovery would be the lone question mark. Prior to the Pacers' meeting with the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, head coach Frank Vogel provided few details about his starting power forward's status only briefly stating that West would be re-evaluated following Saturday's game, adding "...He's not cleared to practice yet."
Assuming Indiana satisfies requirements for application and elects to actually apply, the Pacers, if granted the hardship exception, would be able to sign a 16th player to a temporary, non-guaranteed contract.
The hardship exception should not be confused with the disabled player exception, which the Pacers were granted as a means to "replace" Paul George once he was determined to, more likely than not, be unable to play this season. Already carrying a full 15-man roster for the 2014-15 season, utilization of the disabled player exception would require the Pacers to either have to waive a player or complete a 2-for-1 or 1-for-none trade in order to open a roster spot. In short, while the disabled player exception requires a roster spot, the hardship exception creates one.
Significantly depleted by injuries, an added player via the hardship exception would serve as a stand-in until one of the team's four injured players is able to return for game action.
For the Pacers, having an additional guard to utilize, even if only at practice, might be a help. Given that newcomer Rodney Stuckey (until further notice) is limited by a minutes restriction due to a sprained foot, second-year Pacer Donald Sloan is the last fully healthy guard standing. If backcourt aid turns out to be something the Pacers need to pursue, former Maverick (having been recently waived) Gal Mekel, Will Bynum, and Ish Smith are among some of the more favorable options. Though it could probably be assumed that the security of a guaranteed contract would be preferable to a short-term, non-guaranteed deal, which is precisely what the Pacers would be capable of offering via the exception. Not to mention, the Oklahoma City Thunder - also injury-riddled - are rumored to have interest in some of the top remaining free agent guards.
The league's hardship exception is only a band-aid for the Pacers' bigger problems and it is likely that they may not even pursue applying for it, but should Indiana feel that they could use an extra body at practice or to temporarily spell Donald Sloan, relief is available to help stem the bleeding.