"It is way too early to speculate on his return as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery," said Larry Bird in an updated statement regarding Paul George. While setting a concrete timetable regarding the star's full-recovery is still too premature, planning for his absence - no matter the duration - starts now.
Providing an update about his son's health status to the Indy Star's Candace Buckner, Paul George, Sr, admitted what most expected about the length of the All-Star's rehabilitation, "We're saying the whole year."
Acknowledging the numerous variables at play, if George Sr's estimation holds true, then the Pacers, over the salary cap, would be eligible to apply for a disabled player exception with the league office. The exception, which allows a team to replace a player with serious injury or illness, requires that a neutral physician designated by the NBA make a "final determination" on the player's inability to play during the upcoming season, per the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Assuming that the Pacers elect to apply for said exception and the league decides to grant it, then, according to Part 25 of Larry Coon's Salary Cap FAQ, the Pacers would have the option to sign, acquire, or claim a player on waivers via the following guidelines:
• The team may sign a free agent for one season only, for 50% of the disabled player's salary or the amount of the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception, whichever is less.
• The team may trade for a player in the last season of his contract only (including any option years), who is making no more than 50% plus $100,000 of the disabled player's salary, or the amount of the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception plus $100,000, whichever is less.
• The team may claim a player on waivers who is in the last season of his contract only (including any option years), who is making no more than 50% of the disabled player's salary, or the amount of the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception, whichever is less.
Given the significant blow that the serious nature of Friday evening's injury dealt to the immediate futures of both Paul George and the Pacers' franchise, acquiring a player for the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception (equal to $5.305M for the upcoming season) appears to be a decent avenue for the team to utilize as they attempt to move forward. Of course, some things can be just too good to be true, and applying for the disabled player exception, unfortunately, presents a number of problems.
First and foremost, the exception, while it allows teams over the salary cap to add a replacement player, still counts toward the luxury tax:
To be clear: Any salary Indy eventually pays via the disabled player exception DOES count toward tax as normal. IND only about $2M under now— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) August 3, 2014
As most are aware, the Pacers, with approximately $74.8 million in committed salary for next season, have been extremely resolute with their reluctance to stay below the league's dreaded luxury line projected to be at $77 million. Signing or acquiring a player via the entire exception, would, in the absence of other cost cutting moves, transform the Pacers into a tax-paying team, something that makes little to no sense in the absence of their franchise player.
Ignoring the tax implications, there is the more obvious problem of actually persuading a suitable option at the small forward position to sign on for a year. According to Nate Silver's projection method over at Five Thirty Eight, the Pacers, without Paul George, have a projected record of 44-38 for next season. While the notion of playing hard for Paul might motivate current members of the Pacers' roster to overachieve, the possibility of being a bubble playoff team is not likely to attract many names on the short-list of remaining impact free agents.
Shawn Marion, an athletic defender with length, has been brought up by some as a possible target, but, at 36 years of age, it seems unreasonable to expect that the former NBA Champion would not want to land with a bona-fide contender and/or a team capable of offering him more than just a one-year contract.
Beyond the Matrix, there are, quite frankly, very few, if any, palatable options this far into free agency. RealGM's Shams Charania reported that the Pacers may have interest in signing free agent shooting guard Marshon Brooks:
The Indiana Pacers have free agent MarShon Brooks on a short list of wing possibilities for a deal, league sources tell RealGM.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 3, 2014
Never garnering any consistent minutes in Brooklyn and being used as part of trade packages by both the Celtics and Warriors, Brooks probably can be had a price that the Pacers can currently afford. However, as a currently unsigned shooting guard, it is difficult to see how his addition will move the needle or help fill the void on the wing left by both Lance Stephenson and, now, Paul George.
With slim chances for an extended postseason run and no guarantee of a playoff berth, the best option may simply be to forego application for the disabled player exception entirely, and, instead, take a chance at continuing to develop their own players (i.e. Solomon Hill, Chris Copeland, etc.), or consider trade options with some of the assets they already possess, such as this deal proposed by SB Nation's Celtics Blog. While avoiding a luxury tax bill, the Pacers can continue to game plan around Paul George's return as well as the possibility, even if remote, of Roy Hibbert and/or David West opting out at the end of the upcoming season.
Whichever decisions the Pacers may make moving forward, take solace, for now, in the words of Larry Bird, "Our franchise has had setbacks in its history but has demonstrated the abilities to recover."
Like Paul George, the Pacers will be alright but, right now, there is no timetable.