The Indianapolis Pacers are currently in basketball purgatory. They are good enough to make the playoffs on a yearly basis in a slowly improving Eastern Conference, but they really aren’t good enough to compete for an Eastern Conference Championship, much less an NBA title.
The biggest problem of all is the fact that there are teams who finished ahead of them in the standings who still haven’t even come close to reaching their full potential (Milwaukee,), a few teams who have solid rosters that have the ability to continue to develop marginally (Toronto, Atlanta, Washington, and Miami), a team with all the potential in the world that just needs to have their players actually play a full season (Philadelphia), a team that not only has talent and depth, but the ability to add a major play maker via the draft or a trade (Boston), and the team that is the prohibitive favorite every year until they prove otherwise (Cleveland).
Now, if you’re not a math person, that is 8 teams that arguably are in a better situation that Indianapolis at this point in time. That doesn’t even include Chicago who always seems to grit their way into the playoff picture, and the Hornets and Pistons, who were playoff teams in the 2015-2016 before hitting some speed bumps the past season. But hey, at least you can count on the Knicks, Magic, and Nets being awful for the next 30 years (probably a joke, but definitely not).
All that being said, the Pacers have a major issue staring them in the face. You have two years left of Paul George before he can walk for free. He is clearly your best offensive and defensive player and without him you are facing a life of competing for the bottom feeders in the league for a top 5 pick. However, the Pacers have some serious cap problems and struggle to put competent players on the floor right now (everyone say this with me: Lance Stephenson is a sixth man). Paul George has stated that his primary concern is playing for a winning roster, but can the Pacers even make an attempt to build around him?
All of this leads us to the biggest conundrum of all. If Paul George makes an All-NBA team this year, he has the ability to earn $70 million more dollars on his next contract with the Pacers (for a maximum 5yr/$200 million deal) . Even a player dedicated to winning would think twice about leaving that on the table. However, this increase in salary would also decimate the cap space for a mid-market team like Indianapolis, making it nearly impossible for them to add talent around George without giving up young assets like Myles Turner and Glenn Robinson III or drafting exceptionally well. It is the definition of bittersweet; the only way to keep Paul George could be the worst thing for the team’s long term future. What doesn’t help is George has been completely non-committal about his future in Indianapolis.
In a future post, I will examine the top options the Pacers have at this point in time and which one may be the best for them.
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