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Pendergraph Wanted to Return, But Offer Wasn’t Right

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

July 12, 2013

Jeff Pendergraph wanted to return. He didn’t want to move on to a new situation with an unfamiliar team. He wanted to be back in the tight-knit locker room with his guys to make another run at a title.

Unfortunately for him, that won’t be the case.

Pendergraph, who signed with the San Antonio Spurs in a move officially announced Thursday, talked extensively with Pacers.com about his decision. He was very candid about free agency, why he decided to sign with the Spurs and what he’ll take away from his time in Indy.

Pendergraph said that the Pacers did offer him the minimum ($916,099), which surprised him. With a wife and new child, he didn’t want to see his salary of the past two years cut in half. He knew the team was strapped a bit after giving David West his well-deserved deal, but he thought he was worth more than the minimum.

Pendergraph heard through the grapevine that the Pacers were making offers to other players at his position. “It didn’t seem like they were trying very hard,” Pendergraph said.

The Pacers then wished him luck if he decided to look elsewhere.

In addition to offers from Indiana and San Antonio, Pendergraph heard from New Orleans, Cleveland and Denver. He personally reached out to Brian Shaw, the Pacers’ former associate head coach and now the lead man in Denver, to see if there was an opportunity. The Spurs offer was really good, according to Pendergraph, and it was another great organization where he could learn a lot.

Later, he learned that Jim Boylen was leaving the Pacers’ coaching staff to work under Gregg Popovich. That made San Antonio even more appealing.

“That was definitely a pro,” he said. “He was one of the coaches that I was really close with and I was working out with him all the time. Now with him in San Antonio too, things won’t be so strange or different. It’ll be a little bit more familiar.

“The weather is nice and I get to wear shorts all year. My wife will love it.”

Ultimately, the Spurs had an offer which satisfied the 26-year-old and his young family.

“It was a tough choice,” he said, sounding disappointed. “My wife and I were pretty bummed out about that things went down the way they did. … We were looking forward to returning to Indy.”

Pendergraph still remains in frequent contact with a handful of Pacers, particularly George Hill and Ian Mahinmi. He had heard positive reviews about playing in San Antonio often from Hill, who’d share stories when those three would go to dinner on the road.

With Summer League currently going on, Pendergraph has also kept tabs on – and exchanged texts with – last year’s rookies, Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson.

Leaving is tough on Pendergraph. He had so much fun in Indianapolis and wearing the Blue and Gold proudly, despite playing just 10 minutes per game last season. Most of all, he’ll miss the guys.

“I’ve never been on a team that the team is just so together. You see everybody work their butts off and believe in each other and have each other back. With the teamwork and togetherness we had, everything else we were able to overcome.

“We were able to get to the conference finals not because we were the most talented team or had the highest payroll or were the favorites. Even going into the playoffs, nobody gave us anything. We were lucky to get by Atlanta. We played New York and were supposed to lose to them. And then we were supposed to get swept by Miami. As a team, we had that underdog mentality. Everybody on that team has been an underdog throughout their career at one point or another. I felt like that was one thing we shared as a team that brought us together.”

In San Antonio, his specific role hasn’t been discussed. Because of his versatility, he could see himself playing in a number of rotations beside Tim Duncan, or Tiago Splitter, or Boris Diaw, or Matt Bonner. Pendergraph said that Coach Popovich did tell him to “Come in, work hard, work your butt off and everything will work out how it’s supposed to work out.

“I’m going to get in there and learn as much as I can as fast as I can and just try to contribute in any way I can. Hopefully eventually that leads to playing time, real minutes. What I earn, instead of just being a good practice player and teammate.”

And just like with the Pacers, he’s fortunate to be going into a situation where the team is comprised of winners and competing for a championship.

“They’re all stacked, too,” he said. “If you’re playing behind Tim Duncan, he’s Tim Duncan. How crazy is that to go from David West to Tim Duncan. One of the best power forwards in the NBA to the arguably the best power forward ever. Man, just the ability to learn, it’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to get there, pick people’s brains and get into practice and start playing against everybody and getting my butt kicked.”

Before each game, Pendergraph was the guy that got the team fired up. After introductions, the team would surround him at the foul line for a motivational speech. As each starter then walked up the sideline just ahead of the tip, Pendergraph had a unique handshake with each guy. So, of course, our conversation couldn’t end until he discussed who might take over that role.

“I was trying to groom O.J. (Orlando Johnson) for it,” he said with a laugh. “I hope he is ready. He’s got a year of learning under his belt. He was my little apprentice. Hopefully he’s ready to step into it. … I hope somebody can get them going. They need somebody to fire them up.”

This decision wasn’t easy for Pendergraph, who was as friendly and likeable as they come. He was a team-first guy that understood his role, but that didn’t keep him from pushing, getting better and desiring more playing time.

San Antonio has a winning culture where future Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich gets the most out of his players. An exciting opportunity with satisfactory compensation awaits Pendergraph.

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