Veteran forward Shawn Marion met with Pacers President Larry Bird on Monday night.
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Pacers In Talks With Free Agent Shawn Marion

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

Larry Bird had dinner with The Matrix on Monday night.

Whether he ends up in a Pacers uniform remains to be seen, but we do now know that Bird, the Pacers President of Basketball Operations, has had discussions with free-agent forward Shawn Marion about the possibility of Marion joining Indiana for the 2014-15 season.

Bird informed reporters at Tuesday morning’s press conference about his dinner with the four-time All-Star.

In the aftermath of Paul George’s right leg, open tibia-fibula fracture on Aug. 1, the Pacers applied for a disabled player exception with the league office. The organization is still waiting to hear back from the league on whether their application has been approved.

As outlined by NBA.com’s David Aldridge, Indiana would be granted the disabled player exception if a designated doctor’s examination determined that George will miss the entire 2014-15 season. If the exception is approved, the Pacers could then sign a free agent like Marion to a one-year contract worth up to $5.3 million.

Marion is arguably the biggest name of the remaining free agents and easily the most obvious available candidate to slide into George’s spot at small forward in the Blue and Gold’s starting lineup.

“We’re trying to gauge his interest in coming here,” Bird said on Tuesday. “We think he can help us, but we also know that we’re not going to replace Paul. You just can’t replace Paul.”

Still, Marion would certainly be a valuable piece for a Pacers team that, by all indications, still plans to compete as hard as they can next year.

Marion spent the last five seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, playing a major role on the team that won the 2011 NBA championship. The 6-foot-7 forward has averaged double-digit points per game in each of his 15 NBA seasons. In 2013-14, he started 76 games, averaging 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting over 48 percent from the field and just under 36 percent from 3-point range.

Even at 36 years old, Marion would seemingly be a strong fit with this Pacers team.

As a veteran player who has won a championship and been a part of several deep playoff runs, Marion would likely fit seamlessly in the locker room.

With George’s injury and Lance Stephenson’s departure in free agency, starters Roy Hibbert, David West, and George Hill are all expected to take on greater loads offensively next year. Marion could help share some of that responsibility on the offensive end. And while he’s no longer an elite defender on George’s level, Marion’s length and veteran savvy would make him a good fit on the other end as well.

Shawn Marion and Melanie Meeks

Shawn Marion while at Vincennes University with Pacers fan Melanie Meeks (Photo Credit: Meeks).

For what it’s worth, the Clarksville, Tenn. native also played his first two years of collegiate basketball at Vincennes University, just a couple hours’ drive from Indianapolis, before finishing his career at UNLV. In his second year at Vincennes (1997-98), Marion averaged 23.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game.

Two major obstacles remain in the way of the Pacers signing Marion.

The first is a financial issue. If Indiana were to offer Marion the full disabled player exception (assuming the league grants their application), signing Marion would push the team into the luxury tax. Bird reiterated Tuesday that the team will not exceed the luxury tax threshold.

So to sign Marion, Indiana would either have to clear room financially with a corresponding roster move or only offer Marion a portion of the $5.3 million available through the disabled player exception.

Which brings us to the second hurdle in signing Marion: Does he actually want to come here?

Even after Monday night’s dinner, Bird can’t answer that question with certainty.

“What I came away with is he’s undecided where he wants to play or what he wants to do,” Bird said. “But he did say that he would like to be on a contender and try to win a championship.”

Marion has also been linked in reports to the Cleveland Cavaliers and could potentially have other suitors interested in his services.

The Cavaliers, the apparent favorites to win the Eastern Conference with the additions of LeBron James and (potentially) Kevin Love, would perhaps be considered the frontrunners for a player interested in winning a championship.

But both Bird and head coach Frank Vogel made it clear on Tuesday that the Pacers aren’t conceding anything in 2014-15.

“We’ve got a winning culture here, an approach that comes to bring it every single night (and) be the hardest playing team in the NBA,” Vogel said. “I think we’re going to surprise some teams.

“I think those fans that think the season’s over before it started are very wrong. I think they’re going to be pleasantly surprised with the grit and toughness that we play with the year, and I think we’re going to be able to compete with the best.”

Still hoping to contend next season, the Pacers have made their pitch to Marion. Now, they’ll have to wait and see if they can bring him into the fold. If Marion does end up signing with Indiana, it won’t happen in the immediate future, due in large part to the process associated with the disabled player exception.

But Bird has made it clear that the door is open for Marion.

“He knows that we’re probably not going to do nothing for a while,“ Bird said. “(But) he has a place here if he wants to come."