Over the next several weeks, we’re going to be “scouting the enemy,” as we’ll be covering the outlook for the 29 other teams in the league ahead of the 2019-2020 season.
Former Grizzlies: None
The Indiana Pacers experienced one of the more eventful offseasons in the NBA this summer. That is saying a lot when you consider the amount of moves, big and small, that occurred throughout the Association. Dealing with moves that were both expected and surprising, Indiana did quite well in having a creative plan in place to emerge from the chaos as true contender in the East for this year and beyond.
First came the surprises, as Darren Collison, at just 31 years old, decided to retire after 10 NBA seasons to focus on interests away from basketball. Beyond ending his career at such a young age, the fact the Collison was a free agent and likely was looking at a multi-year deal worth eight figures per year in free agency made his retirement one of the biggest surprises of the offseason. Furthermore, Tyreke Evans received a two year ban from the NBA due to substance abuse violations. Though Evans and Collison were both free agents, there was a realistic chance the Pacers could have brought at least one of them back to fill a significant role in their backcourt.
While not as surprising but still significant, Bojan Bogdanovic, an extremely valuable role player for the Pacers over the past two years, accepted a lucrative multi year offer to play for the Utah Jazz. Along with the uncertainty of Victor Oladipo’s return from injury in the near future, the departures of Collison, Evans and Bogdanovic quickly depleted the Pacers’ backcourt. It was a situation that the Pacers needed to address immediately.
Knowing that Bogdanovic likely would find a deal too expensive for their liking, the Pacers were proactive in attempting to replace his production. As the 2019 NBA Draft approached, the Pacers acquired forward T.J. Warren and the 32nd overall pick in the 2019 draft in exchange for cash considerations. In a move many felt was one of the more lopsided deals of the summer in the Pacers favor, Indiana was able to find a good source of scoring over the next two years at the simple cost of taking on additional salary. They also got a pretty good pick for their efforts as well.
The Warren acquisition was just the beginning. In one of the most surprising, and Indiana’s most significant, moves during the 2019 NBA Free Agency period, the Pacers signed restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon to a four year, $85M contract. The contract agreement was part of a sign and trade with the Milwaukee Bucks, as Indiana sent a future first round and two future second round picks to the Bucks. To further replenish their back court talent, the Pacers also reached multi-year agreements with free agent guards Jeremy Lamb and T.J. McConnell. While the overall investment was immense, especially in regards to Brogdon, the Pacers did very well in replacing a significant loss of talent with versatile players that can help on both ends of the court.
While less exciting than the Pacers back court, Indiana’s front court also experienced significant changes. Veteran leader Thaddeus Young departed in free agency to sign with the Chicago Bulls, but that came as a result of Indiana’s desire to get bigger and younger with its post depth. With the 17th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Pacers selected Georgian Center Goga Bitadze, one of the most talented foreign players in this year’s class.
The selection of Bitadze carries significance this year and beyond. It provides quality depth behind likely starters Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, allowing them to remain fresh and effective throughout the season. While Sabonis and Turner have returned incredible value on their rookie contracts, a long term lucrative commitment to both could be difficult for Indiana to achieve. With an extension already in place for Turner and Sabonis becoming a restricted free agent next summer, the Pacers made sure to have insurance with the realistic chance that one of their talented young bigs could leave.
While their are plenty of new faces, an argument certainly can be made that the Pacers emerged from the offseason with more depth and talent on their roster than when it began.
Due to intelligent moves made through the draft, trades, and free agency, Indiana has been one of the better organizations in the NBA at finding and developing talent in recent years. As a result, they again find themselves being viewed as a strong playoff contender in the Eastern Conference. With their new additions, they have a young core in place for the foreseeable future, one that should continue to get better and gel in time. However, while their future may be bright, it is logical to view the 2019-2020 has Indiana’s best chance to take the next step as a contender.
The Pacers success will be heavily contingent on how quickly and effectively their starting lineup will gel. With Brogdon, Sabonis, and Turner assuming starting roles with various rotations supporting them, the Pacers will be athletic and versatile. Regardless of who is starting, head coach Nate McMillan and his staff will likely feature numerous lineups based off matchups and situations, which maximizes a roster that can quickly adapt on both ends of the court. If Brogdon and Warren can continue as reliable scorers on the wing, the Pacers will feature an offense that can score both from the post and the perimeter. Lamb, McConnell, and Bitadze will join Aaron Holiday, Doug McDermott, and T.J. Leaf to form one of the younger and higher upside benches in the NBA. If a few of their young talents on the bench can continue to develop, the Pacers will be able to rest their starters and throw multiple at opponents to create advantages to achieve wins.
However, despite all the comings and goings, the ultimate success of the Pacers in the 2019-2020 season will be determined by the young core that has made them an annual contender in the East. Sabonis and Turner have played many minutes together over the past few years, and the results have been mostly positive. However, with their talent, this duo should easily be one of the best front court pairings in the NBA. Indiana has a giant need for that to become a reality, as the other clear contenders in the Eastern Conference feature some of the league’s best front courts. Now with both of them likely locked in as starters, both Turner and Sabonis should have plenty of opportunity to find the chemistry that will make them consistently effective.
Obviously, the ultimate factor that will determine how far Indiana can go is the health of their best player. Victor Oladipo’s horrific season ending injury last year was one of the lowest moments for the league as a whole. Neither Oladipo nor Indiana have provided much insight into his recovery, but the hope is that he will return at some point in the first half of next season. When he does return, questions will still remain:
How much will he play?
How quickly will his star-level talent reemerge?
Will he be able to reach a level the Pacers need him at to reach new heights in the postseason?
While there is no doubt the Pacers are certainly a better team with him, there is valid reason to question whether or not he can return to his All-Star level production this season. With the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers also having plenty of reasons to go all in on a finals run this year, the Pacers need Oladipo to be as close to his old self as possible. Both in the present and the future, the Indiana Pacers have one of the brightest outlooks in the NBA. However, the health of Oladipo is what will likely determine whether this season will become memorable or redundant next spring.