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Loaded with expiring contracts, Pacers still scraping and clawing together

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Thaddeus Young faced a tough decision last summer.

Coming off the best season of his career, he held a $13,764,045 player option with the Pacers. Opting in probably, though not definitely, maximized his salary this year. But opting out would have allowed him to sign a long-term deal with more total compensation.

Young opted in.

“Obviously, I had a few teams that wanted to pay me some money and stuff like that,” Young said. “But I figured that playing another season and going into it with these guys is better for me.

“We’re a family. We built something. We have some unfinished business.”

That decision, several others and Victor Oladipo‘s season-ending knee injury sent Indiana toward its identity – a tough, balanced team full of players incentivized to look out for themselves.

Several key Pacers – Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Wesley Matthews, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans – are on expiring contracts. But they don’t play like it. Indiana has remained cohesive amid obstacles, including the contract situations.

Don’t expect that to change with the Pacers trailing the Celtics 2-0 in their first round series entering Game 3 tonight.

Indiana proved its mettle last season. Largely written off after the Paul George trade, the Pacers became the NBA’s surprise team by winning 48 games. Victor Oladipo broke out as a star.

This season brought a new complication – players on the verge of getting compensated for their success. It could have happened more gradually, but circumstance created a rush.

Young opted in. Indiana exercised a $10.5 million team option on Bogdanovic and a $10 million team option on Collison, locking this in as the final year of their contracts. Matthews got bought out by the Knicks and signed for the rest of the season with a Pacers team that presented major opportunity with Oladipo sidelined. Evans, finding an underwhelming market in free agency last summer, prioritized a one-year deal. Joseph was the only one who was clearly entering the final season of his contract in Indiana.

The Pacers have given 68% of their minutes this postseason to players on expiring contracts. That’s a close second to the 76ers (only because I counted a few players with sure-to-be-declined player options – Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Khris Middleton – as having expiring contracts).

Here’s the percentage of minutes given to players on expiring contracts this postseason:

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In the regular season, Indiana trailed only the Wizards.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan said he addressed the contract situation before the season. His message, as summarized by Joseph: “We’re better when we play together, and if we do, then everybody will get rewarded.”

Players clearly bought in. Indiana surged to a 32-15 start. But Oladipo’s injury tested the Pacers’ cohesiveness.

They clearly wouldn’t be as good without their star, and they went just 16-19 since his last game. It would have been a logical time for players to go their own ways and start playing for themselves in what looked like it’d be a lost season.

Instead, they tightened their bond. This team has been quite competitive without Oladipo. The schedule got tough in March, but the Pacers stuck together.

“We don’t have big names, big stars on our team,” Bogdanovic said. “But we are fighting every single night.”

The delicate balance of Indiana’s offense – especially considering contract-year motivations – is quite stunning.

The Pacers averaged 5.4 double-digit scorers per game this season – the most in nearly two decades. Not bad for a team that finished 22nd in the NBA in points per game. Though scoring is up this season, 69 other teams averaged more points per game since another team had so many double-digit scorers per game.

“There’s a lot of players on the other teams that play for their own stats,” Bogdanovic said. “…We have this season, eight or nine players with expiring contracts, and we are still playing the right way, sharing the ball. We don’t care who’s going to score. That’s why we are successful.”

Unconcerned about their scoring numbers, Indiana players exert their energy on other things – defending, rebounding, screening. The Pacers impose a hard-nosed style, just as they did last year.

Indiana’s professionalism and focus on winning is a tribute to its players and organizational culture. This is a veteran team with the right priorities.

As much as he believed in this group, as well as he has guided it, McMillan wasn’t quite certain how the contract situations would affect his squad.

“That can go either way,” McMillan said. “It can be good or bad. It’s been good for us. Our guys have committed to playing together.”

Celtics’ Jayson Tatum on playing at Disney World: ‘Still not excited, not thrilled’

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum
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Celtics forward Jayson Tatum wasn’t going to sit out the NBA’s resumption due to injury concerns. Players like Tatum got the enhanced insurance they wanted, anyway.

But that doesn’t mean Tatum is eager to go to Disney World.

Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

I don’t blame Tatum one bit. Players are facing tight lifestyle restrictions, including be separated from their families and friends for weeks. Coronavirus is an ever-present threat. There’s a very important protest movement sweeping the country.

Who can easily focus on basketball at a time like this?

Of course, Tatum decided the pros outweigh the cons. The money is substantial (for players collectively more so than Tatum individually, though there’s a case for all players to do their part for each other), and the Celtics have a chance to win a championship.

But before coronavirus, Tatum thought he’d get that money and title opportunity. The only new aspects are the downsides.

I appreciate Tatum’s openness about the situation. He’s certainly not alone in feeling this way.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. It’s just the unfortunate reality of the pandemic.

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie done for season after coronavirus diagnosis

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie
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No Kevin Durant. No Kyrie Irving. No DeAndre Jordan. No Wilson Chandler. No Nicolas Claxton.

And now the Nets will be without Spencer Dinwiddie, who has been battling a symptomatic case of coronavirus.

Spencer Dinwiddie:

The Eastern Conference playoff race is shaping up to be ugly. The Nets are decimated. The Wizards won’t have their best and second-best players, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans. The Magic will probably be without Jonathan Isaac (who looked so promising) and Al-Farouq Aminu.

I don’t know how Brooklyn will proceed. Tanking raises ethical questions in normal times. When sending players to an uncomfortable bubble in the midst of a pandemic, it’s especially troublesome.

But the Nets have a clear incentive: They’ll keep their first-round pick only if they miss the playoffs. Otherwise, it goes to the Timberwolves (via the Hawks from the Taurean Prince trade).

Presumably, Brooklyn – with a healthy Durant and Irving and maybe a third star – would convey a much later pick next season (when the pick is still lottery protected).

In the meantime, Caris LeVert can step up as lead guard with Irving and Dinwiddie sidelined. Chris Chiozza should get an opportunity at point guard. Garrett Temple can play a larger role. Tyler Johnson adds backcourt depth.

Jordan’s and Claxton’s absences leave Jarrett Allen as the Nets’ only option at center (which could be freeing after a season of having to look over his shoulder). But he could use a backup. Maybe Amir Johnson.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Johnson, 33, hasn’t played in the NBA this season. He spent the last couple seasons with the 76ers, becoming gradually less effective. But he’s a savvy veteran who should fit in quickly.

Wizards: Bradley Beal not playing in resumption due to shoulder injury

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The Wizards (24-40) were selected for the NBA’s resumption at Disney World despite their lousy record. They were the only Eastern Conference team outside playoff position to qualify, and the league set up a relatively easy path for reaching the playoffs. Washington (5.5 games behind the Magic, 6.0 games behind the Nets) just had to get within four games of eighth place to force play-in games. Brooklyn will be without  Kevin Durant, Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler and Spencer Dinwiddie.

What a golden opportunity for the Wizards.

But their highest-paid player – John Wall, who declared himself 110% healthy – won’t play. Their second-best playerDavis Bertansdecided to sit out. And now their best player – Bradley Beal – is done for the season.

Wizards release:

The Washington Wizards announced today that guard Bradley Beal will not participate in the NBA’s 2019-20 season restart in Orlando due to a right rotator cuff injury.  The decision was made in full consultation with Wizards Chief of Athlete Care & Performance Daniel Medina, Wizards Orthopedist Dr. Wiemi Douoguih, Beal and his representation.

“Bradley did everything possible to be ready to play, but after closely monitoring his individual workouts we came to the conclusion that it was best for him to sit out the upcoming games in Orlando and avoid the risk of further injury,” said Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard.  “Although he was able to play through the majority of the season with the injury, the layoff from March until now did not leave any of us feeling comfortable that he would have enough time to be ready to perform at the extremely high level we are all accustomed to seeing and agreed that not participating in the games in Orlando was the right decision.”

Beal experienced discomfort with his shoulder early in the season and worked with the team’s medical and performance staff to manage the injury.  The symptoms worsened over the course of the hiatus and he began to rehabilitate the injury with the intent of returning to play.  He will not travel with the team to Orlando and will continue his rehabilitation process over the summer.

“This was a difficult decision and one that I did not take lightly as the leader of this team,” said Beal.  “I wanted to help my teammates compete for a playoff spot in Orlando, but also understand that this will be best for all of us in the long term.  I appreciate the support of my teammates, the fans and the entire organization and look forward to returning next season to continue the progress we have made.”

Pacers guard Victor Oladipo became the first star to choose to sit out. Is Beal the second?

It’s a gray area.

Oladipo missed more than a year with a torn right quad tendon, returned for just 13 games then had another long layoff due to the season being suspended. He increased risk of future injury as his reason not to play.

Washington is citing a current injury. If Beal isn’t healthy enough to play, he’s not healthy enough to play. Players get hurt all the time. It could be that simple.

But players are also incentivized to claim injury here regardless of their actual reason for not playing. Given Beal’s standing in the organization, of course the Wizards would go along with whatever he wants.

If deemed to be missing games due to injury rather than personal choice, Beal would protect at least $2,376,581 in base salary. (With league-wide revenue way down, no players are getting their full base salary this season.) Beal would also protect an additional $297,073 of base salary for each play-in and playoff game Washington plays up to a total of $4,159,016 in base salary.

But get real. The Wizards were already the worst continuing team. And that was with Beal.

Though anything can happen in this high-variance setup, Washington looks like it belongs in the second bubble.

Free agent Gerald Green had offers, chose not to play in Orlando restart

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Gerald Green is a free agent veteran wing who shot 35.4% from three last season — the kind of player a lot of teams could have used heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando. He was traded by the Rockets and waived by the Nuggets at the trade deadline because a foot injury and surgery that sidelined him for the season, but the delay before the restart gave him extra time to get healthy and he was medically cleared.

However, as teams start to land in Orlando today, Green is still at home.

This is by choice, several teams were interested reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

The Rockets had traded Green at the deadline as part of the four-team Clint Capela deal, which took them out of the running to re-sign Green.

Green will have offers come free agency this October, but for now he will be home watching the NBA restart on television, just like the rest of us.