The fortunes of the Indiana Pacers’ 2018-19 season changed late in January, when All-Star shooting guard Victor Oladipo suffered a devastating season-ending ruptured patella. They performed admirably without their leader, going 17-19 from the time of the injury through the end of the season, something that was especially impressive considering Oladipo was the only guy on their roster who could get his shot whenever he wanted. Ultimately, though, his absence was far too much to overcome, and the Pacers wound up getting swept out of the first round by the Boston Celtics. There were some encouraging moments this season for Indiana, like young big men Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner blossoming into productive contributors, and the fact that the team more or less held it together after losing their best player.
Overall, however, it could be a tricky summer for the Pacers, who will see eight players, most of whom are nightly contributors, become free agents, and could land contracts elsewhere that price them out of returning to Indiana. At the same time, that also means the Pacers could find themselves with a lot of cap space this offseason, and although they aren’t usually a free-agent destination, that could change this summer with the prospect of playing alongside Oladipo and for a stable franchise. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, what Indiana needs to focus on more than anything is getting Oladipo back and ready to go as early as possible in 2019-20.
GUARANTEED CONTRACTS FOR 2019/20
Victor Oladipo: $21,000,000
Myles Turner: $18,000,000
Doug McDermott: $7,333,333
Domantas Sabonis: $3,529,554
TJ Leaf: $2,813,280
Aaron Holiday: $2,241,960
NON-GUARANTEED CONTRACTS FOR 2019/20
Edmond Sumner: $1,588,231
Alize Johnson: $1,416,852
Davon Reed: Restricted
With so many impending free agents on the roster, the Pacers will have some tough decisions to make this offseason. Indiana will have the ability to open up over $43 million in cap space by renouncing the cap holds to all of their free-agent players. Will they opt to do that and chase star-level free agents, something they have rarely done in their past? Or will they opt to keep this core around and hope that the return of a healthy Oladipo will keep them in contention for an annual Top-4 seed in the Eastern Conference?
Another issue that the Pacers may have to resolve this summer will be figuring out what to do with Sabonis, the third-year big man out of Gonzaga who just put up a career season, and who will be eligible for an extension this offseason. Usually, this would be an easy decision. Most big-market franchises would offer him an extension near the max and be done with it – his play and upside certainly merit that type of commitment. But the Pacers are in a bit of a bind because they aren’t in a huge market, would rather not pay the tax, and just gave Turner, another center like Sabonis, a four-year, $80 million extension. The duo is talented enough to make it work together, but the fit is far from perfect. Either way, it won’t be an easy decision for Indiana, but at worst, they can put off making it for another summer by letting Sabonis become a restricted free agent in 2020.
A more pressing issue will be what Indiana decides to do with Bogdanovic. The 30-year-old has been great as a Pacer, averaging 16.1 points over the last two seasons and hitting 41.3 percent of his triples in that span. But he has major warts defensively and could land a huge contract from an opposing team in need of a wing shooter this offseason. Will Indiana prioritize the sharpshooting forward and bring him back at all costs? Or will they let him walk if the bidding war starts to get north of a $15 million annual price range? These are all tough questions the Pacers will have to answer this summer, but at the end of the day, just getting Oladipo back in tip-top shape will be by far the most important thing they do this summer.
POTENTIAL FREE AGENCY TARGETS
Kemba Walker: Next to Oladipo, Walker would form one of the elite backcourts in not just the East, but in the league. Indiana could open the cap space necessary to offer Walker a max, and if the All-Star point guard is tired of carrying the Charlotte Hornets on his own, the Pacers would be a solid landing spot.
Derrick Rose: Collison isn’t a lock to come back, and Rose, after a career-year shooting the three ball, could fit nicely next to Oladipo, giving Indiana two ball-handlers who can attack the basket and knock down triples.
Terrance Ross: By most accounts, Evans probably won’t be a Pacer next year. If he does depart, Indiana could use Ross as his replacement in the second unit. Ross might even be better suited for that role than Evans, since he’s a confident three-point bomber, while Evans struggled with confidence in his role.
Al-Farouq Aminu: If Bogdanovic lands some huge deal from another team this summer, the Pacers could be left with a hole on the wing. Aminu could fill it nicely, and would actually provide a huge upgrade on the defensive end, an area Bogdanovic has always struggled mightily.
Jeff Teague: Teague spent one season in Indiana. Could a return be in the cards? With Collison’s return up in the air, Teague could be a good replacement candidate, even despite his injury-related struggles in 2018-19.
POTENTIAL TRADE TARGETS
Mike Conley: If the Grizzlies blow things up, Conley will be next to get traded. Indiana, if they want an elite player to take Collison’s spot, could make sense as a landing spot. Conley and Oladipo would form an outstanding backcourt.
Jrue Holiday: The Pelicans could decide to start over after trading Anthony Davis, making Holiday another candidate to get moved. Holiday and Oladipo would be elite defensively, and Holiday would take some of the scoring burden off of Oladipo’s shoulders.
Nicolas Batum: Another team that could have a fire sale, the Hornets could be open to moving on from Batum. The Pacers, who might have a hole on the wing this summer, could target the 3-and-D playmaker to fill the void.
2019 DRAFT ASSETS
The Pacers own both their first- and second-round draft picks for 2019. They will select 18th overall in the upcoming draft this summer.