Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6

Pacers season ends leaving hard questions about next steps

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On paper this was a great season for the Pacers: They won 56 games, were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and made it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. A lot of teams would take a season like that faster than you can hit the mute button when those DirecTV mannequin commercials come on.

But in reality this Pacers season felt like a missed opportunity. They entered the season with high expectations then exceeded them to start the season going 33-7, but things started to come unglued around the All-Star break, they stumbled down the stretch of the regular season going 9-14 to close out the year. In the playoffs they needed seven games to get by the 38-win Hawks then looked like they might not get by the Wizards, but did.

Then the Heat reminded the again how big a gap there is between the Pacers and contending, particularly with the blowout Game 6 win.

Indiana enters this offseason knowing that if they return with this same core group of players they will get the same result as the last two years (if even that good). It’s fair to argue this team played mentally soft ball. There need to be changes. There are some very difficult off-season questions to answer.

Does Indiana bring back unrestricted free agent Lance Stephenson?

Can Frank Vogel lead this team to the next level?

Do the Pacers need a more traditional point guard/someone who can create more shots for himself and others?

The problem is, it will not be easy to change this core.

The Pacers have committed to $64.9 million in salary for next season, which is already over the projected $63.2 million salary cap (data via Sham Sports). Roy Hibbert is set to make $14.8 million (and no, the Pacers are not going to trade him, they couldn’t get anywhere near equal value back), Paul George is owed $13.7 million, David West $12 million, George Hill $8 million. The Pacers are not going to bring Evan Turner back and Luis Scola could be bought out to save a few million (his deal has a buyout for just under $1 million) but that still isn’t going to open up much money.

All this ties Larry Bird’s hands — there is no easy way to just pick up a free agent.

All those big contracts will it hard to find a trading partner — George Hill has three years and $24 million left and nobody is going to be eager to take that deal on, for example.

Which is why, despite his antics, the Pacers may bring back Lance Stephenson, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer. The question is what does his return cost? He seems like the kind of player some GM will offer four years, $40 million to and gamble on his maturing. Because giving a young player $40 million always helps them mature. Still Stephenson is on the top of everyone’s “guy who is going to get overpaid this summer” list.

If the Pacers bring him back at $10 million a season they will be getting close to the luxury tax line — and all that without having a superstar player on the roster (unless you want to sell that Paul George is one, good luck with that).

But if Stephenson walks, then who will the Pacers count on to create shots? The limitations of George Hill and Roy Hibbert to create their own looks will be all that more glaring. For all his erratic play, Stephenson makes plays, set up passes and he is aggressive… most of the time. In Game 6 against the Heat he was very aggressive up until he got the technical on Norris Cole, then Stephenson largely disappeared.

I think the Pacers could use a more traditional point guard (I wasn’t in that camp until recently), someone who can be a floor general and set up Hibbert better in the post, or create shots for others off the bounce. They need a calming influence.

But they are going to have to give to get — someone like Ian Mahinmi will have to be on the block. The Pacers will have to sacrifice some size and defense to improve their roster.

If they don’t, next season isn’t going to look any better than this one.

Report: Bucks signing Xavier Henry

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 16:  Xavier Henry #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on November 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  The Warriors won 136-115.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks hope Xavier Henry is just another thing Byron Scott is wrong about.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Henry – the No. 12 pick in the 2010 draft – never found his footing in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Hornets or Los Angeles Lakers. He made some strides with the Lakers in 2013-14, but he tore his Achilles early the following season. That compounded the knee injuries that made Scott doubt Henry could meet the expectations placed on him coming out of Kansas.

Milwaukee now has 15 players, the regular-season roster limit. If Henry’s deal is unguaranteed, he’s obviously not a lock to stick. But the Bucks could use another wing. I’m guessing they’ll add more players to compete with Henry for that final spot.

Report: Lakers signing Travis Wear

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Travis Wear #6 of the New York Knicks dives for the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves  during their game at Madison Square Garden on March 19, 2015 in New York City.    NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Phil Jackson said he warned the Lakers they’d regret passing on Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 2 pick.

The Lakers are getting another swing at stretch big Jackson liked – though this time with far lower stakes.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Travis Wear spent 2014-15 with the Knicks and last season in Spain.

He’ll compete with recently signed Zach Auguste for a regular-season-roster opening that doesn’t exist – until the Lakers ditch Nick Young. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lakers add more players to the mix.

Both Wear and Auguste are eligible to have their D-League rights assigned to the Lakers’ affiliate if they’re waived before the season.

The 6-foot-10 Wear went undrafted out of UCLA in 2014. He has the makings of a stretch four, but he must become more comfortable beyond the arc rather than just in the mid-range.

NBA rookies love Kris Dunn, Ben Simmons – not so much

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  Kris Dunn walks on stage after being drafted fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Rookie of the Year, best playmaker, best defender and funniest. Kris Dunn even received a vote for best shooter despite his jumper holding him back in pre-draft evaluations.

Dunn – the Timberwolves’ No. 5 pick – cleaned up in the NBA’s annual rookie survey.

But when it came to the most important question, Brandon Ingram – the Lakers’ No. 2 pick – claimed the top spot:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Brandon Ingram, L.A. Lakers — 26.7%

2. Kris Dunn, Minnesota — 16.7%

3. Buddy Hield, New Orleans — 13.3%

T-4. Dragan Bender, Phoenix — 6.7%

Jaylen Brown, Boston — 6.7%

Jamal Murray, Denver — 6.7%

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 6.7%

Others receiving votes: Dejounte Murray, San Antonio; Dario Saric, Philadelphia; Pascal Siakam, Toronto; Tyler Ulis, Phoenix; Denzel Valentine, Chicago

That’s a pretty poor showing for Ben Simmons, whom the 76ers drafted No. 1. Maybe it’s because Simmons didn’t make the NCAA tournament at LSU.

But that lack of exposure only barely dissuades me. I still think Simmons will have the best career and win Rookie of the Year. The 76ers will likely feature him in a major role this season while Dunn is stuck behind Ricky Rubio (for now, at least).

But that didn’t dissuade their fist-year peers:

Who will be the 2016-17 Kia Rookie of the Year?

1. Kris Dunn, Minnesota — 29.0%

2. Brandon Ingram, L.A. Lakers — 25.8%

3. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 19.4%

Other notable questions (click through to NBA.com full results) and my picks:

Which rookie was the biggest steal at where he was selected in the Draft?

1. Dejounte Murray (29), San Antonio — 16.1%

2. Tyler Ulis (34), Phoenix — 12.9%

My pick: Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot (24), Philadelphia

Which rookie is the most athletic?

1. Jaylen Brown, Boston — 38.7%

2. Brice Johnson, L.A. Clippers — 16.1%

My pick: Brown

Which rookie is the best shooter?

1. Buddy Hield, New Orleans — 65.7%

2. Jamal Murray, Denver — 20.0%

My pick: Hield

Which rookie is the best defender?

1. Kris Dunn, Minnesota — 23.5%

2. Gary Payton II, Houston — 20.6%

3. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee — 17.6%

My pick: Payton

Which rookie is the best playmaker?

1. Kris Dunn, Minnesota — 29.4%

2. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 26.5%

3. Tyler Ulis, Phoenix — 20.6%

My pick: Dunn in a vacuum with the caveat that Simmons’ playmaking – not far behind Dunn’s – will be more valuable at power forward than Dunn’s will be at point guard

Jose Calderon retires from Spanish national team

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 11:  Jose Calderon #8 of Spain moves the ball against Nigeria during the Men's Basketball - Preliminary Round Group B Nigeria vs Spain on Day 6 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Jose Calderon has won three Olympic medals – silver in 2008 and 2012 and bronze this year.

Just three men’s basketball players have won more:

  • Carmelo Anthony (three golds and a bronze for Team USA)
  • Gennady Volnov (a gold,* two silvers and a bronze for the Soviet Union)
  • Sergey Belov (a gold* and three bronzes for the Soviet Union)

Calderon, who turns 35 next month, won’t catch them.

O. Cauchi of Sportando:

Veteran point guard Jose Calderon has officially announced his retirement from Spanish NT.

Calderon barely played in Rio. Spain is stacked at point guard with Sergio Rodriguez, Ricky Rubio and Sergio Llull.

The Lakers aren’t as deep at the position with D'Angelo Russell and Marcelo Huertas. Calderon might have a bigger impact in Los Angeles – especially if he’s not saving himself for Eurobasket 2017.