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Report: Pacers signing Tyreke Evans to one-year, $12 million contract

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Victor Oladipo‘s takeoff season hit turbulence when the Cavaliers double-teamed the Pacers star in their first-round series. Oladipo shot 7-for-35 in Game 4 and Game 5 losses. Though Oladipo wasn’t used to being trapped to that degree, Indiana also lacked a reliable secondary playmaker to exploit the advantage situation if Oladipo passed ahead.

Enter Tyreke Evans.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Evans was the top unrestricted free agent available. That crown now goes to Isaiah Thomas if you’re swinging for the fences or, if you prefer a safer bet, Luc Mbah a Moute, Wayne Ellington or Brook Lopez.

The Pacers also agreed to terms with Doug McDermott on a three-year, $22 million contract. They eagerly spent their cap space to upgrade a surprising 48-34 win team and still have the $4,449,000 room exception to use.

Taking another step forward could pay off even bigger next summer.

Evans, Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph all have expiring contracts. Oladipo ($21 million salary) and McDermott are the only Indiana players due more than a rookie-scale salary. The Pacers could hit free agency hard again next year.

In the meantime, Evans can play all three perimeter positions, though he’s probably primarily a wing on this team. He might start at small forward, though I suspect Bogdanovic or McDermott will. The Pacers struggled whenever Oladipo sat, and Evans fits as a spark off the bench.

Pacers’ Thaddeus Young reads market correctly, reportedly will opt-in to $13.7 million

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In 2016, when the salary cap spiked at nearly every team was flush with cash, teams threw around money like they were in that Fat Joe/Lil Wayne “Make It Rain” videoChandler Parsons, four years, $94.4 million; Bismack Biyombo, four years, $72 Million; Joakim Noah, four years, $72.6 million. And the list went on and on and on.

A lot of players headed into the 2017 free agency thinking the gold rush was still on, but teams had sobered up, they didn’t have the same cap space, and the market was very tight for free agents. Players were frustrated, some taking shorter contracts with the thought they could re-enter the market in a year and get their cash then.

Except 2018 is going to be a tighter market than 2017. The guys at the top — LeBron James, Paul George, Chris Paul — are going to get maxed out, but there is a shrinking middle class in the NBA already and not a lot of teams with money to spend now.

In the face of that, Indiana’s Thaddeus Young has decided to opt into the $13.7 million he is owed next season, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. It is the smart move financially.

Young provided some veteran leadership — and 11.8 points and 6.3 rebounds a game — for the Pacers last season. More than the offense, defensively the Pacers leaned on Young, who is long and switchable, exactly the kind of defender needed in the modern NBA. He’s a guy that brings intangibles, effort and a bit of an unorthodox game to the court that just works for him.

Expect a number of other players to follow Young’s lead in the next 24 hours. Most players expecting a pay raise, and anyone thinking 2016 was the benchmark and not an anomaly, are not going to find this free agent summer to their liking. Some guys may just want out of their current situations, but many players leaving for the promise of a bigger payday are in for a harsh reality check.

Report: Pacers declining Lance Stephenson’s team option

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We got one last tango between LeBron James and Lance Stephenson.

Now, LeBron and his chief irritant are heading into uncertain offseasons that could result in them no longer matching up in the playoffs.

The Pacers will decline Stephenson’s $4.36 million team option for next season, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Indiana will reportedly guarantee Bojan Bogdanovic‘s $10.5 million salary for next season. Pacers president Kevin Pritchard said the team would keep Darren Collison. I’ll assume that means guaranteeing Collison’s $10 million salary rather than waiving him ($2 million guaranteed) and attempting to re-sign him for less.

If Thaddeus Young opts out and the Pacers waive and stretch Al Jefferson ($4 million guaranteed of $10 million salary), Indiana could have about $33 million in cap space.

That’d go a long way in this market.

Even if Young ($13,764,045 player-option salary) opts in, the Pacers should be a major player in free agency. They’re coming off a surprisingly strong year and positioned to get even better.

After they hunt better wings, they could even bring back Stephenson at a lower salary. He seemingly plays well with only Indiana, but maybe the Pacers have just had enough of him.

If they don’t want to re-sign him at a lower cost, it’s not a certainty he gets an NBA job next season.

Marcus Morris on Pacers and Raptors defending LeBron James: ‘Them dudes can’t guard’

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Marcus Morris drew a lot of attention for lauding his own defense of LeBron James before the Celtics and Cavaliers began the Eastern Conference finals. (Morris backed it up in Game 1.)

But Morris’ self-praise came with humbler context. He called LeBron the best player in the NBA. He noted Kawhi Leonard was better at defending LeBron. He emphasized that slowing LeBron wouldn’t be a one-man job.

This isn’t as subdued.

Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

Morris waited next in the long line of LeBron defenders, and so he studied the tendencies of the ones who came before. He watched plays on Synergy. He downloaded clips on YouTube. He projected games on his flat screen, pressing the rewind button once, twice, then three times just to figure out what, if anything, he could take from the previous two playoff teams that had been vanquished by the King.

Morris sought inspiration, but he stumbled upon a harsh truth.

“Them dudes can’t guard. That’s what I did pick up,” Morris said, bluntly.

Bojan Bogdanovic, Lance Stephenson, Thaddeus Young, O.G. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam can (some reasonably, others not) object – from home.

Morris is busy readying for what will likely be a bounce-back Game 2 by LeBron.

Bloodied and beaten, LeBron James and Cavaliers drop Game 6 to Pacers

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LeBron James looked human.

More than any other time since he left Cleveland in 2010, his team can’t afford him to.

Thaddeus Young bloodied him with an errant elbow. Victor Oladipo dunked on him. Lance Stephenson taunted him relentlessly.

And, when LeBron usually delivers a knockout punch, he failed to finish off the Pacers.

LeBron lost for the first time in his last 12 closeout games, the Cavaliers falling 121-87 to Indiana in Game 6 Friday.

At 3-3, this is already the worst first-round series by a LeBron team. He won his previous 12, most via sweep and only two requiring six games.

He’ll try to avoid his first first-round elimination in Game 7 Sunday in Cleveland. Home teams have won 80% of Game 7s, but home teams in series between No. 4 and No. 5 seeds (like this one) are just 3-4 in Game 7s. That’s a small sample, but it speaks to the competitiveness in even matchups like this.

And Indiana is certainly making it competitive.

Oladipo (28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals) was the best player on the court. Six of his teammates scored double figures in the most lopsided win in Pacers history.

On the other hand, it’s becoming only more clear – as if it weren’t already – LeBron must singlehandedly carry the Cavs to the second round if they’re going to get here. He has scored 46, 32 and 44 points in wins and 24, 28 and now 22 points in losses this series.

Neither LeBron nor Oladipo played in the fourth quarter, the result clear much sooner. Stephenson ran on court to strum an air guitar during third-quarter play, either believing a timeout had been called or just not caring.

The Pacers are playing loose, hard and effectively. They’ve outscored Cleveland by 44 in this series.

The Cavaliers should be favored Sunday. But Indiana has pushed and pushed and pushed and isn’t stopping.