C.J. Miles

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Paul George trade just the start of a pathetic Pacers offseason

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The Pacers would have been better next season if they just kept Paul George.

They also might have been better in 2019-20.

Indiana got a head start on 2018-19 and little else this offseason.

George said he planned to leave in 2018 free agency, so dealing him was certainly reasonable. But for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis? That paltry return sent shockwaves beyond just scorned Cleveland.

It’ll be tough for Oladipo to provide surplus value as he makes $84 million over the next four years. Sabonis is as pedestrian as a second-year lottery pick can get.

The Pacers also lost Jeff Teague and C.J. Miles in free agency and waived – and stretched! (more on that later) – Monta Ellis, three players who started in the playoffs last season. Their replacements: Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph.

Bogdanovic ($1.5 million of $10.5 million) and Collison ($2 million of $10 million) have small guarantees for 2018-19. So does returning center Al Jefferson ($4 million of $10 million). Essentially, Indiana will keep those players if they have value at those salaries or clear cap space otherwise.

Though Miles, essentially acquired for free in a trade with the Raptors, has a $7,945,000 player option for 2018-19, the Pacers will have his Bird Rights.

This is shaping up to be a 30-something-win team, where the “something” will determine whether Indiana sneaks into the playoffs in a down Eastern Conference or picks in the low lottery. Though not stuck in that position with several long-term contracts, it’s still a lousy place to be even for a season or two.

The Pacers might have felt George’s declared plan to depart sent them down this path, but it didn’t have to.

If they kept George, one of two things would have happened:

  • He’d re-sign. Despite his insistence that he was leaving, he could have always reversed course. If he made an All-NBA team this season, he would have been eligible for a super-max contract. Indiana could have dared him to turn that down.
  • He’d leave. The Pacers probably still would have been in better long-term shape than they are now. Though I’m high on Myles Turner, they probably could have tanked around him in his fourth year and launched a proper rebuild.

Either way, Indiana would have been better in the interim. The Pacers wouldn’t have been postseason locks with George this season, but they would have been more likely than this rag-tag bunch. They also could have cut bait on George and dealt him before the trade deadline – likely for more than they got this summer.

Indiana just doesn’t want to slip too far, though. That’ll pay off next summer, when the Pacers have Oladipo and Sabonis locked up, team control over Bogdanovic and Collison in unguaranteed salaries and Bird Rights for Joseph if he opts out.

Starting after the lopsided George trade, this wasn’t bad execution of the plan. It’s just a bad plan.

Striving for mediocrity with established veterans just inhibits meaningful growth. That’s especially evident with stretching Ellis, who will count $2,245,400 against the cap through 2022.

The Pacers cleared nearly $9 million in cap space with the move, but their guaranteed salaries still land about $7.5 million below the salary cap, and the $4,328,000 room exception remains unused. Though the cap space and room exception can’t be combined, the space created by stretching Ellis didn’t go to great use. If Indiana offered Bogdanovic and/or Collison just $1 million or so less, they wouldn’t have signed? It would have been better to play hardball with those free agents and lose one than to stretch Ellis.

Indiana isn’t going anywhere significant this season, anyway. The right move was paying Ellis his entire $11,227,000 this season and getting it over with.

The Pacers aren’t completely bereft of young talent. Turner, a stretch center with impressive defensive potential, is now their franchise player. Oladipo is just 25. Draft picks T.J. Leaf (No. 18), Ike Anigbogu (No. 47) and Edmond Sumner (No. 52) are all fine.

But Indiana lost George, its most valuable asset, without getting a single draft pick or high-end young player. Now, the Pacers are just headed toward a couple uninspiring years before inevitably undergoing the rebuild they could have gotten a head start on this summer or next.

Offseason grade: F

At least the Raptors avoided a catastrophic slide

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I’m grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

After his team’s fourth straight playoff disappointment – even the team’s run to the 2016 Eastern Conference finals included barely scraping by with home-court advantage in the first two rounds then losing in the most lopsided six-game series ever – Raptors president Masai Ujiri declared a need for a “culture reset.”

How he planned to implement that was another question.

DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas alone were guaranteed more than $160 million. Other players were also owed enough that Toronto would have only limited means to replace its best player, Kyle Lowry, if he walked in unrestricted free agency – which seemed quite possible.

It appeared Ujiri was on the brink of pushing the button on a halfhearted detonation. It could have taken the Raptors years to tear down and maybe even longer to build back up.

And it’s not as if Ujiri had complete control. Lowry could have left and made preservation an unavailable option.

But after the foundation of the Raptors’ best era in franchise history shook and settled, they rebuilt a downsized structure atop it that includes only some of the previous furnishings.

Toronto re-signed Lowry and Serge Ibaka to three-year contracts – Lowry for $93 million and Ibaka for $65 million. The players get fairly high salaries, but at least the Raptors can move onto their next chapter in a few years. It’s a logical compromise.

Those deals came at a major immediate cost, though. Toronto is apparently unwilling to pay the luxury tax for a team that has shown no way to get past the Cavaliers. So, there was a large drain on production around the Raptors’ top players. Outgoing this summer:

Toronto even had to include a lottery-protected first-round pick and a second-round pick and incur a $1 million cap hit each of the next three seasons from Justin Hamilton’s contract for Brooklyn to take Carroll.

The only major contributor going against the tide and toward Toronto is C.J. Miles, a sweet-shooting swingman who can defend well when not outmuscled. He’ll help the Raptors. He won’t come close to replacing all that they lost.

Toronto is counting on all the young talent is has cultivated to step up. Norman Powell and Delon Wright are definitely in line for bigger roles, and Pascal Siakam probably is, too. The Raptors would probably like to cut bait on Jonas Valanciunas to elevate Jacob Poeltl. O.G. Anunoby, Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo are also in the pipeline as potential rotation players.

Credit Toronto for identifying and developing this deep crop of youngsters, who allowed for the team’s strategy this summer. These players have been preparing, and at some point – ideally while still on cheap contracts – they deserved the opportunity contribute.

But make no mistake: The Raptors downgraded across the board. The supporting cast around Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka – a trio in or near its prime – is less-equipped to help a team designed at the top to win now.

It feels like this team’s best chance of winning the East has come and gone. LeBron James is still in Cleveland. The Celtics have probably already overtaken Toronto, and the 76ers’ rise appears inevitable.

The Raptors have had a good few years. They might have a few more good ones left.

But it seems their self-imposed budget has resigned them to playing out the string on a plan that has already peaked.

Offseason grade: C-

What team travels the most miles in new NBA schedule? Sorry Jimmy Butler but…

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Usually, it is the teams from the West Coast that end up with the heaviest travel schedules in the NBA — it’s just the nature of geography. There are a lot of teams clustered along the Eastern seaboard that are not far from each other, where in the West it was common to have a Los Angeles then Denver back-to-back and that flight is close to two-and-a-half hours. Things are just more spread out in the West.

This year, however, the travel honor goes to a midwestern squad — the Minnesota Timberwolves. NBA stats guru Ed Küpfer laid it out in a graph he put on Twitter.

Good news for the Pacers: The team that has employed so many miles — currently Myles Turner and formerly C.J. Miles and Miles Plumlee — will travel the least.

This is an interesting stat, but former front office executive in Brooklyn and now ESPN analyst Bobby Marks made an excellent point:

The NBA worked hard to balance out the rest issue — limiting the number of nights where one team is on the second night of a back-to-back, while the other team is rested. Still, the rest issue matters. So does just when you catch a team — do you catch a team like the Washington Wizards or Denver Nuggets when they are fully healthy and playing well, or do you catch them when they are battling a critical injury, or when they are just in a slump? Those things can be random, but they impact wins and losses.

And in what will be a tight playoff spot for the final couple slots in each conference, those handful of wins or losses could matter a lot.

Report: Pacers signing-and-trading C.J. Miles to Raptors for Cory Joseph

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The Raptors just shed an overpaid, too-often injured wing in DeMarre Carroll.

Now, they’re getting a cheaper, more effective replacement in C.J. Miles.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

At that price, Miles would have fit into the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Though using that exception would have hard-capped Toronto, so will receiving someone in a sign-and-trade.

So, why deal Cory Joseph here instead of signing Miles outright?

Perhaps, the Raptors plan to use the mid-level exception on someone else. The hard cap will limit their ability to use the whole exception. Precisely how much they can spend depends on Kyle Lowry‘s and Serge Ibaka‘s contract structures. But there’s still flexibility for Toronto to add another productive player.

On one hand, I’m somewhat skeptical the Raptors will pay to add another player, because they could easily go the other way and dodge the luxury tax altogether. On the other hand, again, trading Joseph for only Miles seems illogical if not preserving the mid-level exception for someone else.

Joseph is a solid player who will compete with recently signed Darren Collison for minutes at point guard in Indiana. The Pacers refuse to tank, though acquiring the 25-year-old Joseph’s Bird Rights – he likely opts out next summer – could prove valuable long-term.

At a $7.63 million salary, Joseph was probably more of a luxury than Toronto could afford. Delon Wright was waiting in the wings, and he’ll ascend into the rotation as Lowry’s backup.

But Joseph is a relatively young high-end backup on a reasonable contract. I’d think the Raptors could have gotten some return, at least a second-rounder, by trading him somewhere. Again, the Raptors had the means to sign Miles outright rather than trading with Indiana. Maybe the Pacers are sending Toronto an asset that hasn’t yet been reported.

Miles will help the Raptors, especially because they had Wright ready to assume Joseph’s role (and Fred VanVleet ready to assume Wright’s as third point guard). Instead of relying on a smallish wing combination of DeMar DeRozan and Norman Powell, Toronto can start Miles with DeRozan. Like Carroll, Miles can also play some small-ball four.

This deal probably won’t become official until Toronto completes its trade with the Nets, which can’t happen until the Wizards pass Otto Porter on his physical and complete matching his offer sheet.

Monta Ellis, Reggie Bullock suspended five games each for drug violations

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The Pacers already had enough problems with Paul George headed toward unrestricted free agency.

The latest headache for Indiana: Monta Ellis‘ suspension.

NBA release:

The NBA announced today that Reggie Bullock of the Detroit Pistons and Monta Ellis of the Indiana Pacers have each been suspended without pay for five games for violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program. Their suspensions will begin with the next NBA regular season game that they are eligible and physically able to play.

A five-game suspension is the penalty for a third marijuana violation (following entering the league’s marijuana program for the first offense and a $25,000 fine for the second offense).

This could slightly increase Indiana’s interest in re-signing C.J. Miles, who fit better in the starting lineup than Ellis anyway.

Bullock will be a free agent, and it’s still questionable whether Detroit will extend him a $3,313,542 qualifying offer to make him restricted. This could push the Pistons away. Or, with Caldwell-Pope’s contract taking them near the luxury tax, they might prefer Bullock on a slightly reduced salary.