Pacers owner Herb Simon answered several questions from the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor, regarding the team and organization on and off the court. He also discussed the future of Bankers Life Fieldhouse which included some financial saber rattling for the next round of renovations.
The city’s Capital Improvement Board (CIB) and Pacers are in the midst of a 10-year, $160 million deal through at least the 2023-24 season intended to help maintain the Fieldhouse and keep it current.
BLF couldn’t deliver a much better game environment than it currently does and recent upgrades have enhanced the high-end amenities for fans. In addition, the team is building a monster facility across the street which will raise the bar significantly in terms of team and player amenities.
Simon laid out a sugar-coated threat regarding what he’s looking for from the the city to keep the Fieldhouse viable long into the future.
“For me to sign a long-term lease, which is what I really want to do for the city, we’re going to have to plan it for the 21st century,” he said. “Things have changed. People's viewing habits are different with more social environments. It takes a major redo because the bones are great and we want to keep it here. We love the feel that people get, but we want to enhance the fan experience and keep us current. That’s going to take a lot of money.”
OK, not sure what more social environments mean so we are lacking specifics on the future bells and whistles other than the fact it will cost a lot of money. The Pacers are making money these days in the booming NBA, but that part was downplayed, as was the rise in value of the franchise, estimated by Forbes at around $880 million.
So while Simon will surely want the city to pitch in for that major renovation, it had me wondering if he would be willing to spend a little more on the team as they hit a critical point with Paul George wanting to stay around on a championship contending team.
Fortunately, Nate asked Simon about the team budget and salary cap management, but his answer didn’t stray far from vague nor give any indication that he is willing to take a tax hit.
Q: What are you trying to accomplish from a budget in terms of the salary cap when the cap continues to rise almost every year?
A: Believe me, our aim is to be competitive. We don’t like to be paying the luxury tax, but most teams try to avoid that. It depends on how good your people are in putting together a team. We’ll always stay competitive. When the day comes we need one player to win a championship, we may even go over the cap. I’ve been battling the league for 30 years, both under David (Stern) and now Adam, about the small markets and making sure that the rules give us a shot to be competitive and have an ability to win a championship like a San Antonio. They’ve been on a wonderful streak. They are the small-market idol. We’re not taking a backseat to anyone, but we’re not going to spend wildly. We’re not going to panic and Larry doesn’t like to overpay and he knows talent. That’s why I’m very comfortable with him.
Yes, Simon mentions he would be willing to exceed the cap if they “need one player” but what about a short-term hit to bolster the roster around PG to keep him around. In other words, take the risk to sign that player before you need that player. Consider it an investment in the future even more important than the investment Simon asks the city to make into the Fieldhouse.
Sure it would take more financial and roster gymnastics by Larry Bird and the front office, but having the option would certainly make it easier to entice PG to stay regardless of which max salary he can demand. With the projected salary cap and luxury tax thresholds expected to continue increasing, the team should be able to manage the tax hit going forward.
Plus, we wouldn’t have to hear Bird talk about the team and owner being limited by not wanting to pay the luxury tax. Just once it would be nice to see them go for it and if not now, then when.