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Two rights trump one wrong for Pacers

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is 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.

If you recall my epically bad assessment of the Pacers’ 2017 offseason and stopped reading this year’s follow-up, I wouldn’t blame you. I gave Indiana an ‘F’ for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis then constructing a roster that appeared doomed to miss the playoffs without landing a high draft pick. Of course, the Pacers had one of the NBA’s very best summers. Oladipo became a star and led Indiana to 48 wins. The Pacers even took the Cavaliers to seven games in their first-round series – the furthest an Eastern Conference team had pushed LeBron James in several years. I learned a lesson in overreacting.

But I once again see Indiana’s offseason as a tale of extremes.

The Pacers had two of the NBA’s best signings and one of its worst.

Evans is coming off a career year with the Grizzlies. Developing into a good 3-point shooter increases his value exponentially due to the off-ball threat. His playmaking will be particularly important in Indiana, as he could punish opponents for trapping Oladipo, a common Cleveland tactic in their playoff series.

O’Quinn is a savvy defender who strikes the right balance between protecting the rim and positioning himself for rebounds. He shoots well from mid-range and has become more comfortable as a passer.

And then there’s McDermott. He’s a very good spot-up shooter, but he’s pretty one-dimensional and a complete defensive liability. The 26-year-old should help this team. But at that cost? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Really, the question looming over the Pacers’ offseason was opportunity cost.

They also guaranteed hefty salaries for Bojan Bogdanovic ($10.5 million) and Darren Collison ($10 million) next season. Could that money have gone to better use? Or would waiving Bogdanovic and Collison and trying to re-sign them for less have just presented too much risk of them leaving?

Could Indiana have done better than Aaron Holiday with the No. 23 pick? He’s relatively established for a rookie after three years at UCLA, but higher-upside options were available.

The Pacers played it safe and emerged with an upgraded version of last year’s breakout squad. The only rotation players lost were Lance Stephenson and Trevor Booker. Evans and O’Quinn should be major upgrades. That makes McDermott just – very expensive – gravy.

Indiana is on track to enter next offseason with a massive amount of flexibility. Oladipo and McDermott are the only players guaranteed more than rookie-scale salaries, though Myles Turner could receive a contract extension this fall.

If the Pacers build on last season as they appear set to, they could be even more appealing to free agents next summer.

Offseason grade: B+

Pacers coach Nate McMillan ‘happy’ LeBron James left Eastern Conference

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The Pacers fared better than any Eastern Conference team had in a half decade against LeBron James in a playoff series.

All Indiana got for its breakthrough performance was a first-round loss.

LeBron ruled the East the last eight years. Just by pushing his Cavaliers to seven games in the first round, the Pacers hit a rare achievement. (The Celtics later lost to Cleveland in seven, too.)

Indiana won’t have to worry about LeBron anymore, as he left the Cavs for the Lakers.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan, via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

“Our approach has always been work on us and not be concerned about what is happening in the league,” McMillan said. “The people wrote us off last season, and now people are going to write Cleveland off. We won’t do that. We know that team is still going to be competitive. Boston is going to get all of their guys back and they’re deep. Toronto is hungry after the season that they had, so the East is going to be very, very competitive.

“Is it open? With LeBron [out]? Yes. We’re happy that he’s gone west. But we know that it’s still going to be a challenge and we have to make sure we work on us and not assume anything. It’s going to be a challenge for us to do the things we did last season and do it better.”

This speaks to LeBron’s stature. I believe McMillan truly believes in focusing on his own team, not outside factors. But LeBron is so powerful, discussing him is unavoidable.

The East is more open now. The Celtics, Raptors and 76ers are first among potential heirs. The Bucks and Pacers comprise the next tier.

So, I certainly wouldn’t pick Indiana. But the Victor Oladipo-led squad – which added Tyreke Evans, Kyle O'Quinn and Doug McDermott over the summer – has a fighting chance.

Kyle O’Quinn takes dig at Knicks on way out

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Kyle O'Quinn was a great signing by the Indiana Pacers (who have quietly had a really good summer, no superstar moves but landing Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott was smart). O’Quinn is a distinct upgrade over Al Jefferson (who will play next season in China) and he comes at a $4.4 million deal that will not break the bank.

O’Quinn spent last season in New York and couldn’t resist a shot at the Knicks on the way out the door.

Ouch.

That’s also pretty accurate. While rookie Kevin Knox has had a nice start in Summer League, with Kristaps Porzingis out for most if not all of the season, New York is going to struggle. The Knicks won 29 games last season and with KP out it’s hard to imagine the 14-game jump (give or take) it would require to get invited to the postseason dance.

On the other hand, the Pacers won 48 games last season, got better this offseason, and will be a second-tier team in the East this season. They are playoffs bound.

Quinn got what he wanted.

Kyle O’Quinn opts out of Knicks contract

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The Knicks have the No. 9 pick, and tomorrow’s draft will be the most important part of their offseason.

Will they also have cap space to add talent in free agency? That hinges on Enes Kanter‘s player option.

If Kanter opts out, New York will have even more room to operate thanks to Kyle O'Quinn declining his $4,256,250 player option.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Knicks expected this for a while, and they’re probably not disappointed. Steve Mills and Scott Perry want to put their stamp on the franchise. O’Quinn is a leftover from the Phil Jackson era and a reminder of the recent tumult in New York.

O’Quinn’s combination of block percentage (6.1) and defensive-rebounding percentage (27.8) was unmatched last season. He just really struck a nice balance between contesting shots and remaining in position on the glass. He’s also a smooth mid-range shooter with an improved ability to distribute.

How much is that player worth?

It’ll be a tight market, especially for bigs. For his sake, I hope the 28-year-old O’Quinn already has assurances from other teams. He might get a similar salary or, more likely, a larger overall guarantee on a multi-year deal. But it’s also possible he comes out behind by testing free agency.

Report: Knicks prepared to open cap space if LeBron James wants to play for David Fizdale

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The Knicks’ eternal pursuit of LeBron James has reached another chapter.

New York is hiring David Fizdale as coach. He might or might not succeed, but he definitely built a relationship with LeBron while a Heat assistant coach.

And that, of course, has started a buzz.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

after Thursday’s hiring of former Memphis head coach and Heat assistant David Fizdale, the Knicks are prepared to open salary-cap space this summer in the unlikely event they get an inkling LeBron James has some interest in coming to the Garden this summer, according to an NBA source.

The easiest route for the Knicks opening max cap space: Enes Kanter opting out without a promise of a long-term contract from New York (he shouldn’t, but who knows?), Kyle O'Quinn opting out, trading Courtney Lee and unloading any other player.

Of course, even if Kanter clears the way, luring LeBron won’t be nearly that easy.

Why would LeBron want to join such a crummy team? Why would LeBron want to play for James Dolan?

Because of Fizdale?

That was far-fetched when tied to the Lakers, and it’s even less believable here. At least the Lakers will have cap space to lure an additional star and multiple promising young players. The Knicks with Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and a bloated cap sheet don’t cut it.

LeBron has frequently praised Madison Square Garden and Fizdale. But it takes far more than an arena and a coach to lure a player of his caliber.

It never hurts to be prepared, and as easy as it is to mock the Knicks for leaking this story, we’d drag them mercilessly if LeBron somehow wanted to sign and they couldn’t make it happen.

But I just hope they hired Fizdale for other reasons than pursuing LeBron. They need a good coach, not a conduit to a pipedream.