Pacers have to clean up messy roster
Next two months will tell us a lot about Pacers commitment to be elite.
Seems like years since I last wrote about the Pacers for public consumption. In fact, I feel like I tanked the end of the season better than the Pacers did. I guess the Pacers ending with the seventh spot in the NBA draft lottery could have been worse and will have to do until the lottery on May 16th solidifies the team’s spot in the draft.
The results of the lottery will be another piece of a puzzle on the front office table at the Fieldhouse that remains jumbled. Yes, the Pacers exceeded expectations, particularly those of Kevin Pritchard and Rick Carlisle who spent the preseason managing expectations for Pacers fans and media.
“I’ve talked to the staff about metrics that would be useful to measure progress, measure performance, those kinds of things. I would say in general, a lot of this is going to be the eye test,” Carlisle said before the season. In other words, judge this team by what you see, not wins and losses.
The Pacers were too young to be a playoff team, but Tyrese Haliburton didn’t get the memo and helped lead the Pacers to more wins than expected while charging up the Fieldhouse with legitimate hope for future success. Eventually, the vision laid out on media day came to fruition but Hali was a one man beacon of hope, making teammates shine while earning an All-Star nod.
But let’s face it, the Pacers roster is an unbalanced mess that needs more attention than another top ten (top three, at least, please?) pick can deliver. Kind of like my yard the past few weeks with the grass growing, leftover leaves in flower beds, tree debris all over. The plucky play and great team chemistry were fun to follow when wins weren’t prioritized but that’s dead wood now. However, with some quality front office work and a little mulch in the beds, suddenly this team can be the pride of the neighborhood.
By now you’ve seen all of the postseason recaps, exit interviews and player reviews. If not, buzz over to Pacer.com and check out the goods. Also, Scott Agness has you covered for all of the notes on the exit interviews with the media.
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What you’ll find with those player reviews is that every player on the current roster is valuable and it’s easy to make a case for each player to play a key role (starter, reserve, mentor) going forward.
But, again, those are the individual parts, the puzzle pieces, if you will. Unfortunately, those pieces don’t fit together. It’s not a growth thing, not a skill development thing, not a scheme thing. They simply need to swap out some parts no matter how fun, cool or fan friendly a player may be. The chemistry has already changed now that the stakes and expectations have changed. So speculating on the roles of various players is premature until we know who will actually return.
Just listen to Kevin Pritchard’s post season presser after he wades through all of his appreciation for the effort his team gave this season. KP gets excited talking about the future and the vast array of options for the team to improve.
"I'm optimistic about our future," Pritchard said after the season. "I think there are opportunities for us to look at our draft picks and cap space and maybe put a bunch together and make big packages and go after some players. I can't say for sure that's gonna get done. But I want to be really creative with how we go after the right players."
So back to the roster as I shift metaphors, there’s some tree debris on the roster that needs to be cleared out for the roster to really bloom, I mean grow in the right direction. KP does not sound like a man giving any consideration to running it back, nor simply making moves around the edges of the roster. But there aren’t obvious players that have to go.
Veteran players like Buddy Hield and TJ McConnell are on quality contracts when you consider their production last season. All of the young players have shown promise to develop into even more valuable rotation players. But there are too many guards and too many centers. Too many small wings forced to play big. So the options are plenty to clean up the roster when combined with cap space and draft picks.
Oshae Brissett, George Hill, James Johnson and Gabe York are free agents. Rookie Kendall Brown is also a restricted free agent, but the dynamic young player should certainly return on at least one of the three two-way contracts available to the team.
George Hill and James Johnson both appear willing to return in a low minute, veteran role on the bench. Both showed they are valuable in that role, but one is enough on the 15-man squad and certainly not a make or break move. Personally, I’d prefer Johnson since he was so tight with Haliburton, brings that enforcer edge on the sidelines and can also play front court minutes in a pinch. Hill is a great vet, as well, but adds to the imbalance of the roster as a fourth tweener point guard. But again, this is the least of KP’s worries.
As for non-players, the Pacers could have up to $28 million-ish in cap space along with five draft picks. Pritchard has been adamant about not wanting to add five more young players to the roster and seems more interested in adding that top pick if it is the right player and then packaging the rest with some of that cap space in deals for established players.
Now, we’re talking! The trade deadline was a bit of a disappointment, but KP teased that they took some big swings at the deadline but couldn’t strike a deal. OG Anunoby and Obi Toppin were the likely targets in those deals. Toronto will have a new coach and like the Pacers, still have an unbalance roster full of the type of big, active wing players the Pacers desperately need. In fact, if you combined the Pacers and Raptors and drafted two teams, they would both be pretty solid top to bottom.
That may be a little drastic, but it is definitely time for some spring cleaning at the Fieldhouse…even if we have to wait until the summer heat in early July to see the results.
Please share your thoughts in the comments on how you would clean up the Pacers roster for next season.
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