30 Teams in 30 Days: Indiana Pacers tune up roster in hopes of taking next step
Addition of Tyreke Evans, others may help Pacers realize hopes of deep playoff run
That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today’s team: Indiana Pacers
Who’s new: Tyreke Evans (free agency), Doug McDermott (free agency), Aaron Holiday (Draft), Kyle O’Quinn (free agency)
Who’s gone: Lance Stephenson, Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III
The lowdown: The Pacers were declared dead well before the season tipped off because of a forced summer trade that cost them All-Star Paul George. The basketball world snickered when the Pacers took back Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and, well … how’d that work out, anyway?
Oladipo seized the moment, became the face of the franchise, an All-Star and the Kia Most Improved Player — all while delivering as much as George as a scorer. Sabonis became a solid rotational piece and led the club in rebounds. Indiana nearly won 50 games — most projections had them getting half as much — and spooked LeBron James and the Cavs in their first-round series. It was a triumph for Oladipo, coach Nate McMillan and those who saw this coming … which was like, maybe three people.
The most vindicated person in the NBA last season was the man who swung the George trade, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard. The reaction league-wide was nearly a consensus: Indiana got 50 cents on the dollar, losing a star and also taking on Oladipo’s questionable (at the time) $21 million per season contract in the process.
That laughter turned to applause when Oladipo emerged as a certified go-to player as the Pacers nearly upset the Cavs in the playoffs.
So, what does Pritchard do for an encore? One thing’s for sure: nobody would question his moves this time. And, sure enough, the Pacers made some summer roster moves that passed the smell test. They sought supplemental players who could ease Oladipo’s scoring load and help him in other areas. Although there are no guarantees Indiana’s newcomers will elevate it in the East, at least the list of needs was addressed.
Evans was the prize addition, a strange turn considering two years ago he was trending in the opposite direction and couldn’t stay healthy. He gives Indiana an off-the-ball creator who can take the last shot if necessary. Last season, he averaged 19.4 points per game and made 39.9 percent of his 3-pointers for the Memphis Grizzlies. However, Evans hasn’t played a full season since 2014-15, and was limited to 52 games last season.
If his body is right, he should be a solid option next to Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic, making the Pacers a bit less predictable late in games. Maybe the only downside is Evans is signed for only one season. If he performs well, he might bolt for bigger bucks next summer. Or maybe he’ll feel right at home in Indiana.
Evans replacing Stephenson in the lineup is an overall win-win for the Pacers. Not only is Evans a better scorer, the Pacers no longer need to cope with Lance’s erratic play. Stephenson did help Indiana in spurts, but was too inconsistent to be called upon regularly.
To help stretch defenses, the Pacers also added McDermott, a pure 3-point shooter. The price was surprisingly high (three years, $21 million in a soft market) and McDermott has never been a prime role player in his four years in the league. How will he respond if given 25 or 30 minutes a night, or find himself with the ball on the final play?
A much more economical purchase was O’Quinn, who ranked seventh last year in Rebound Percentage (22.4) among bench players. A physical rebounder and interior defender, O’Quinn will add frontline depth.
Poor Darren Collison. He’s always had to fight for a starting point guard job, and whenever he had it, always had to fight to keep it. In his previous stint with the Pacers (2010-12), they also had George Hill. In this current go-around, Indiana brought in Cory Joseph to push Collison.
Perhaps someday Holiday will replace Collison, although it’s tough to imagine that happening this season. Few rookie point guards manage to start for playoff teams — much less one selected in the middle of the first round. Still, Holiday comes from good stock, as older brothers Justin (Chicago) and Jrue (New Orleans) are solid NBA players.
These summer moves were designed to fortify the rotation and prove that last season was no fluke. With LeBron gone out West, the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors figure to battle for East supremacy. If Evans can average 19 ppg or so in 2018-19, Indiana figures to make it a foursome.
The Pacers are a hot team now, with a bright future. The downside? They won’t catch anyone by surprise this time.
Coming Next: New Orleans Pelicans
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