NBA Season Preview: Indiana Pacers

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Last season: The Pacers made moves to become a top-tier team in the East and they worked out. Roy Hibbert and Paul George both took some big steps forward, while David West added the consistent scorer they were looking for and George Hill provided balance with Darren Collison, though the two didn’t work well together.

The playoffs were kind of a proving grounds: Could this team, as constructed, compete? The answer was yes, to a point. The Pacers managed, in part on the back of the injury to Chris Bosh, to go up 2-1 over the Heat. They had them right where they wanted them.

Then LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took over and that was that. But the Pacers learned a lot, and established themselves last year. The question is if they can take that to the next level this year.

Key Departures: The Pacers traded Darren Collison to the Mavericks in a suprise move. Collison had been the better guard offensively than George Hill. But attempts to play the two together drew disappoinging results. With Collison headed for a big extension and Hill locked up at five-years, $40 million, it made sense to move Collison, but there may be a drag on the Pacers’ offense if Hill can’t become more of a playmaker and distributor.

Dahntay Jones was underused in Indiana and was sent off as a tag-along in the Collison trade. The Pacers also elected to let A.J. Price go, a pretty surprising move considering Lance Stephenson’s boneheadedness and Price’s underrated production in limited minutes.

Key Additions: Miles Plumlee, anyone? No? No? OK, then.

The Pacers traded Collison and Jones for Ian Mahinmi, a center who saw time behind Brendan Haywood as backup center in the Mavs’ championshp run and who actually played a big part in those Finals. Mahinmi gives the Pacers another true big to throw at Miami, and a better replacement center for Roy Hibbert, something crucial when the big guy gets in foul trouble.

They brought in D.J. Augustin on a cheap deal, getting a starting point guard (yes, it was the Bobcats) for a discount. Augustin will provide more of a pure-shooter point gaurd and can work with the second unit to help bridge the gap. Augustin’s also not a bad defender.

Gerald Green showed that he’s learned how to play last year and had a fantastic half-season with the Nets. The Pacers added him and he gives them an athletic three to bring off the bench, something that was missing last year. They have a fast, sleek second unit now, the opposite of last year’s reserve crew.

Three keys to the Pacers season:
1) Finding something that works offensively. The Pacers are yet another East team with a terrific defense and a horrid offense. They’re also yet another team with a lot of versatile, young talent and no superstar. Danny Granger keeps regressing in a distressing manner, Paul George is still a complimentary player, and David West is no longer at an age or health to carry a team. They need to find something consistent to turn to offensively they can rely on, and that may wind up having to be Hibbert. That idea is met with a lot of chair-squirming across the league.

2) George Hill has to figure out who he is. He was a jack of all trades in San Antonio and did a little of that last year. But the Pacers need him to be excellent in some regard. It can be defense, it can be off the dribble scoring, it can be perimeter shooting, but he’s going to have to give them consistent, excellent play in some regard. They need something to spark them and Hill may have to be it. They’ve committed to Hill as “the guy” at point guard. He has to play like it.

3) Let the big dogs eat. David West is a cold blooded assassin. Roy Hibbert had several games last year that he absolutely dominated the opponent. Too bad no one saw them. They have Mahinmi for depth, a more veteran Tyler Hansbrough, they’ve got some muscle. The Pacers are one of the few teams in the East with legit size. They need to rely on that and not be a team of perimeter wing jump shooters. They’ve got to create more efficient offense, and they’re without a real playmaker. So that means high-percentage buckets close to the rim. The bigs have to get possessions.

How it likely works out: This is the second best team in the East going into the season. Not Boston with its new bench or the Nets with their deficit-buster payroll or the Knicks with their drama. It’s quiet, consistent Indiana, and there is no reason going into the season that they shouldn’t make the Eastern Conference Finals. They landed third last season and wound up with the unfortunate second-round match-up with Miami. They need to get the second seed, make the ECF, then see what they can do against a tired Miami team. No more growth. No more development. The Pacers have arrived. Sink or swim time.

Prediction: 56-26. There’s no reason the Pacers can’t play at a higher level with a more versatile roster and less of a dropoff on the bench. Superstars may dominate the postseason, but great team defense and size advantages help you win any ballgame. The Pacers should be the No.2 team in the East.

Fight involving Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker caught on video

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Devin Booker was upset with the Suns for waiving Tyler Ulis without first telling the franchise player.

Want a glimpse of their bond?

Watch this 2017 video, recently published by TMZ:

TMZ:

We’re told Tyler was trying to hold the elevator for his friends when another group of guys tried to get on.

When Tyler continued to hold it … they took offense and a scuffle broke out.

A short time later, Ulis’ friends — including Suns superstar Booker — took the elevator to the scene of the fight and found the men who attacked Ulis. Another fight broke out, Ulis threw punches.

Booker — who covered his face with a bandana — does not appear to hit anyone.

azcentral:

The Suns say they are looking into the incident.

TMZ:

A source close to the Suns administration tells us, “While these guys know they are always potential targets for others trying to cause trouble, it’s hard to blame them for defending their friend who is on the bad end of a 4 on 1 attack.”

It sounds as if the Suns have already made up their mind and are saying they’re looking into the incident because that’s what they’re supposed to say.

Ulis – who was at the heart of the fight – is already gone. Booker, who signed a max extension this month, was involved but not much more than that.

The Suns should investigate further to better understand the situation, but based on that video and report, it’s hard to see anything for the team to do at this point.

Reversing reported course, Clippers fully guarantee Milos Teodosic’s salary

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The Clippers reportedly wanted to move on from point guard Milos Teodosic.

Teodosic opted in anyway, guaranteeing $2.1 million of his $6.3 million salary. Why not get as much money as possible on the way out?

But apparently Teodosic isn’t leaving L.A., as his contract became fully guaranteed yesterday.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The Clippers are expected to keep guard Milos Teodosic despite their crowded backcourt, according to an NBA official not authorized to speak publicly.

The Clippers traded guard Austin Rivers for center Marcin Gortat since the initial report, but that hardly ended the backcourt logjam. Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, C.J. Williams and Jawun Evans remain at guard.

The bigger logjam is with the overall roster, though. The Clippers now have 17 players on standard contracts, two more than the regular-season limit. That doesn’t bode well for Williams, whose salary is unguaranteed. Without another trade, Evans or Sindarius Thornwell could get cut.

Why the change of heart on Teodosic? Perhaps, he’s progressing better than expected medically. The 31-year-old missed 37 games last season with a foot injury, and there was concern about his long-term health. But when on the court, he’s a dazzling passer and long-distance shooter. Being slowed won’t help his already-woeful defense, though.

The Clippers were already over the cap, and they’re in little danger of entering the luxury tax. So, the only costs of guaranteeing Teodosic are owner Steve Ballmer’s real money, a roster spot and him potentially blocking playing time of L.A.’s lottery-pick guards. But the Clippers could even cut Teodosic in the preseason if someone else emerges as more deserving of the roster spot, and Doc Rivers can choose whether to play Teodosic or Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson.

So, the biggest development is the roster spot. Teodosic is now extremely likely to hold it into the season, which means monitoring who gets dripped.

It may be moot, but Kawhi Leonard now eligible for super-max contract with Spurs

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Early on in the Kawhi Leonard saga with the Spurs, there was a sense in some (even many) quarters of the NBA world that the two sides would work things out. Why? Because the Spurs can offer Leonard way more money than anybody else — $221 million. That’s thanks to the “Kevin Durant rule” added to the most recent CBA that allows the team that drafted a player who meets the criteria (twice All-NBA, MVP, etc.) to get 35 percent of the salary cap at a younger age.

Money did not solve this problem — Leonard and the Spurs are farther apart than ever.

That said, Leonard did just become eligible on Sunday for that massive payday. From Bobby Marks of ESPN.

Kawhi Leonard is now super max eligible (third year anniversary of the contract signed on July 16, 2015) to receive a five-year $221 million extension from the Spurs. If Leonard is traded, the most he could receive in an extension (six months after the trade) would be $108 million over four-years (starting in 2019-20). Leonard would be eligible to sign a five-year $190 million contract as a free agent with the team acquiring him or four-years $141 million with a team that has cap space. Leonard would not be super max eligible as a free agent with the new team acquiring him even if he earned All-NBA honors in 2018-19.

Leonard is still trying to force a trade, and that remains at a standstill.

Where do things stand? Everyone involved is waiting for someone else to blink

San Antonio is waiting for the L.A. Lakers or Philadelphia (or anyone else, such as Toronto) to make what they see as an acceptable offer. Those other teams are holding out their best trade pieces — the Lakers with both Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, the Sixers with Markelle Fultz, etc. — waiting for the Spurs to accept less, closer to what recent big name player trades (DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George) went for. Complicating it all is Leonard’s inexperienced management team, which does not have long-standing relationships with teams, has communicated different things at times, and teams just do not know if they can trust them.

There are conflicting reports and I’ve heard conflicting things from sources, down to the most fundamental issues: Does Leonard want to be a Laker, or does he not want to play with LeBron? Whatever the answer, every day this drags out the Spurs lose leverage.

Even so, this could drag out into training camp. Or longer.

Grizzlies sign second-round pick Jevon Carter to multiyear contract

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies have signed second-round pick Jevon Carter to a multiyear deal.

Terms of the contract announced Sunday were not disclosed, but Carter himself confirmed the deal.

Carter has impressed at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and in Utah. His dogged, aggressive defense has slowed players — Trae Young had some of his worst games against Carter — and on offense his game has improved, including him dropping 26 points on the Jazz recently.

Carter was taken with the No. 32 pick after winning the Naismith defensive player of the year last season at West Virginia. The point guard was second in the nation with 3.03 steals per game and is the Mountaineers’ career leader in that category.