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: Draymond Green won’t receive flagrant foul for tripping Enes Kanter

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors looks to rebound against Kevin Durant #35 and Enes Kanter #11 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Another day, another Draymond Green controversy.

But at least this time – when it comes to Green tripping Enes Kanter in Game 4 – we won’t have to wait so long for the result.

One flagrant point away from suspension, Green avoids that major penalty.

 

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green won’t be given a flagrant one foul for getting tied up with Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday night, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday.

I’m fine with this. I’m far from convinced Green did it intentionally, and I’d have a hard time punishing someone on a weak hunch.

That said, I would’ve also been fine with the league ruling it a flagrant 1. Green has jumped all around the line so often this series, he’s running out of plausible deniability.

Kawhi Leonard only player on every All-Defensive team ballot, gets all first-team votes

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MARCH 12: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs focus on defense against the Oklahoma City Thunder at AT&T Center on March 12, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  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 Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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There wasn’t much consensus among All-Defensive voters, except for this.

Kawhi Leonard is really good.

The back-to-back reigning Defensive Player of the Year  was the only player to appear on every ballot, and he made the first team on all 130. He leads a pretty well-selected group:

First team

Second team

Other players receiving votes, with point totals (First Team votes in parentheses): Rudy Gobert, Utah, 64 (17); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 49 (16); Jae Crowder, Boston, 47 (3); LeBron James, Cleveland, 43 (5); Kyle Lowry, Toronto, 43 (9); Danny Green, San Antonio, 39 (9); Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City, 35 (12); Tim Duncan, San Antonio, 33 (5); Ricky Rubio, Minnesota, 30 (6); Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit, 27 (3); Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 24 (3); Andre Drummond, Detroit, 14 (5); Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City, 14 (1); Stephen Curry, Golden State, 13 (3); Andre Iguodala, Golden State, 13 (3); Patrick Beverley, Houston, 11 (1); Al Horford, Atlanta, 7 (1); Marcus Smart, Boston, 7 (2); John Wall, Washington, 6; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, 3; Trevor Ariza, Houston, 3; Kent Bazemore, Atlanta, 3; Andrew Bogut, Golden State, 3 (1); DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento, 3 (1); Nicolas Batum, Charlotte, 2; Victor Oladipo, Orlando, 2 (1); LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio, 1; Harrison Barnes, Golden State, 1; Bismack Biyombo, Toronto, 1; Mike Conley, Memphis, 1; Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City, 1; Derrick Favors, Utah, 1; George Hill, Indiana, 1; Wesley Matthews, Dallas, 1; Luc Mbah a Moute, Los Angeles Clippers; Kristaps Porzingis, New York, 1; Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City, 1; Mike Scott, Atlanta, 1; Dwyane Wade, Miami, 1

Thoughts:

  • No major gripes about the first or seconds teams. The voters did pretty well.
  • I rated Tony Allen as having the best defensive season by a guard by pretty wide margin. Paul and Bradley had better PR, though. Paul, who has made the first team five straight years, is a mainstay. Bradley benefited from Damian Lillard calling him the NBA’s best perimeter defender, which might overstate Bradley’s admittedly impressive ability to cover his man but definitely ignores other facets of defense (particularly rebounding).
  • I’m quibbling, tough. Paul and Bradley are very good defenders. This is more about Allen than them. And I’ll miss Allen shouting “First team All-Defense!”
  • Russell Westbrook is by far the most overrated player in this voting. There’s a wide gulf between his defensive ability and defensive output.
  • Strangest vote-getter? Mike Scott.

Report: Joakim Noah tells teammates he’s leaving Bulls

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 15:  Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls runs off of the court after dislocating his left shoulder against the Dallas Mavericks at the United Center on January 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Mavericks defeated the Bulls 83-77. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Joakim Noah said in January he wanted to re-sign with the Bulls. Chicago reportedly wants to keep him.

A perfect match?

Not quite.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

According to a Bulls player, Noah has been telling teammates the last few weeks that he was done with the organization once free agency begins, and “has no trust in the front office getting this in the right direction.’’

The player was asked if Noah’s feelings had anything to do with first-year coach Fred Hoiberg and the he said, he said that went on early in the season when Noah lost his starting job, and insisted that Noah didn’t offer up that as an explanation.

What was offered up, however, was the fact that there seems to be a complete mistrust that multiple players have toward general manager Gar Forman, with Noah leading the way.

Noah and Hoiberg publicly disagreed about whose choice it was for Noah to come off the bench. Hoiberg said it was Noah’s. Noah said it was Hoiberg’s.

That looked like a petty problem, one both sides could – and maybe did – get over. But it seems Noah has deeper concerns.

This has been a rough year for the Bulls, who missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. That unexpected downturn takes a toll on chemistry and brings buried problems to the surface. That’s especially true considering Chicago fired Tom Thibodeau – a coach who looks better in hindsight. If players miss Thibodeau, that opens the door for them to turn on Forman, who forced out Thibodeau.

That said, the Bulls are probably better off letting Noah walk. He’s 31 and has been banged up the last couple years. I wouldn’t commit big money to him with Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis under contract and the need for faster players to run Hoiberg’s system. Chicago can’t quickly solve its Jimmy ButlerDerrick Rose issue, because Butler is worth keeping and Rose is under contract another year on a difficult-to-trade deal. But shedding Noah and using the resulting cap flexibility elsewhere gets the team headed in the right direction.

For his part, Noah can seek a fresh start – how about with Thibodeau in Minnesota? – and find a team that suits him, either a win-now squad or a younger group seeking veteran leadership.

Report: Indiana junior Troy Williams staying in NBA draft

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 25:  Troy Williams #5 of the Indiana Hoosiers reacts in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Wells Fargo Center on March 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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An Indiana player – Thomas Bryant – who likely would’ve been a first-round pick didn’t even declare for the draft without an agent.

Another Indiana player – Troy Williams – who might not even get picked will stay in the draft.

Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star:

Williams, a 6-foot-7 small forward, is an excellent athlete. He’s not strong enough and hasn’t shown enough awareness to project him defending well in the NBA yet. But his length, quickness and leaping ability give him potential on that end. That and transition offense will have to carry him for now, because his outside shot is unimpressive.

There are players like Williams in every draft. It’s on him to convince a team that he has the work ethic and intelligence to refine his game.