Myles Turner

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Pacers’ Lance Stephenson will get his chance, but coming off the bench

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Indiana is Myles Turner‘s team now. Gone from last season are Paul George, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Aaron Brooks and more. More than just Turner, everyone on the Pacers’ roster is going to get a chance to shine.

That includes Lance Stephenson.

But he will do that coming off the bench, coach Nate McMillan told the Pacers’ website.

Coach Nate McMillan said he has a starting lineup in mind heading into training camp, but wouldn’t reveal it. He did acknowledge, however, that Lance Stephenson likely will start the season as the sixth man…

“I hope he can establish (that role),” McMillan said. “A sixth man is like a starter, and he can be a guy who can do a lot of things with that second group with his ability to handle the ball, score the ball. He’s an unselfish player.”

Stephenson was only with the Pacers for a few games at the end of last season, but he was their second best player in the postseason brought an energy and toughness the team lacked. He hit threes (62 percent for the Pacers), played hard, and looked more like the guy Indiana had years ago than the guy who has bounced around the league since. But that was a very small sample size, it’s something else to do this over the course of a season.

Indiana is rebuilding but they did not bottom out and tank, they brought in guys who can handle the ball such as Victor Oladipo (the George trade), Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph. Stephenson is going to have to accept and find a role behind and with those guys. But he’s going to get a chance, and he has played his best ball in a Pacers’ uniform.

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

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 Bojan Bogdanovic to two-year, $21 million contract

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Kentavious Caldwell-Pope isn’t the only free agent wing to have his qualifying offer pulled today.

The other – Bojan Bogdanovic, who was previously restricted by the Wizards – found a new deal more quickly.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Wizards surely knew they weren’t going to match, so pulling Bogdanovic’s qualifying offer just eased his move to Indiana.

This is the latest signal – among many – Washington will match Otto Porter‘s offer sheet from the Nets. The Wizards had Bogdanovic’s Bird Rights and could’ve matched, but that would’ve gotten extremely expensive, especially with the luxury tax already a concern. Jodie Meeks is Bogdanovic’s cheaper replacement.

The Pacers refuse to bottom out after trading Paul George. They sought Victor Oladipo in the George deal over pick-rich offers then signed Darren Collison. Bogdanovic might complete a perimeter group to join returning starters Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner up front.

This should be a fun team if you consider chasing 30 wins fun. If you enjoy teams that either make the playoffs or get high draft picks likely to help reach the postseason in future years, the Pacers might not be for you.

Reports: Paul George traded to Oklahoma City

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Danny Ainge was patient, he wanted to secure Gordon Hayward first. Magic Johnson was patient, he believes Paul George will eventually come to him (maybe that still happens, but it’s less likely). The Cleveland Cavaliers desperately tried to make a deal but didn’t have the pieces to get a trade done, even when dangling Kevin Love.

Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti was not patient, he made his move.

The Thunder have traded for Paul George, sending Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the Pacers to help start their rebuild. The trade may not formally be consummated until July 7 (after the signing moratorium), but it’s done. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news.

Numerous other reports have confirmed this. It’s a bit surprising in that Indy had been demanding picks in every other deal but settled without one in this trade. Before you bash Danny Ainge, remember the Pacers asked for the Brooklyn pick and the Laker pick next year, plus Jae Crowder in a deal. They took far, far less from OKC.

First, for the Thunder, this is the kind of move that will make Russell Westbrook want to sign that super max contract extension the Thunder are expected to throw at him at the stroke of midnight.

Second, the Thunder roster of expensive, somewhat one-dimensional role players — Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Andre Roberson if they can retain him in free agency — was built to go around two elite stars. Their flaws were evident last year when it was one star and those role players were asked to do more. While Paul George is no Kevin Durant, the Thunder have two stars again.

George gives the Thunder another good ball handler and shot creator, plus someone who can defend on the perimeter. It will take pressure off of MVP Westbrook, and we should see a more diverse offense from them. This is a Thunder team that will be very good and, if things go right, could be in the second tier of a Western Conference suddenly looking very deep as teams line up to challenge the Warriors.

Will George, who has told people he wants to go to Los Angeles, stay in Oklahoma City when he’s a free agent next summer? Maybe. Depends on how this season plays out. How good do the Thunder look? How do the young Lakers look? There are a lot of variables at play, and George to LA has never been the done deal some tried to sell it as. This is a smart roll of the dice by the Thunder, who didn’t give up too much.

For Indiana, welcome to rebuilding around Myles Turner. The problem is, this package seems like not enough, but Sabonis is a potentially good player about to get all the run he wants. Apparently, Pacers head man Kevin Pritchard is high on Oladipo, who has four years and more than $80 million left on his contract. It’s just step one in a long process for them, but it seems more a stumble than a step.