Price Gets Another Short-Term Lease

It's difficult to keep up with the status of all the initial-J's around the Pacers these days, but here goes.  

C.J. Watson will miss at least the next three games, still sidelined with a bruised right foot. C.J. Miles could play on Wednesday after missing five of the last six games. And, A.J. Price gets to stay with the team awhile longer because all the other injuries earned the Pacers another roster exemption from the NBA.

It represents continued uncertainty for Price, who's living in the Conrad without a car, but it's better than the alternative with which he's too familiar.

Price will be in uniform for at least three more games – against Charlotte at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday, against Phoenix on Saturday and at Dallas next Monday. That means David West, George Hill, Watson and Paul George must stay out of uniform for that period. West, however, appears to be close, participating in a fullcourt drill at the end of Monday's practice, and Hill and George were on the court afterward. George, for one, was engaged in a 3-point shooting drill, talking trash and shooting well.

Amid all of this shuffling, Price is flourishing. And, perhaps, reviving his career. He's averaged 13 points in six games with the Pacers, shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and 41 percent from the 3-point line. More telling, after learning a new system and knocking off the rust of a two-week absence from games, he's averaged 16 points over the last four games. He helped bring a homecourt win over Utah and impressive road victories at Miami and Chicago last week, and has a positive plus-minus rating in four games and a neutral one in another.

“A.J.'s a vet; he's a vet,” Solomon Hill said. “Defensively, the way he talks, the energy he brings in practice … he's been in this gym before, so it's nothing new for him to be here. I'm happy with the way he's gotten things going because everybody gets to see how it's done. He's a guy who's fighting like everybody else, but he's fighting a different fight.”

Roy Hibbert has a slightly different perspective, having been with the Pacers when Price was drafted in the second round in 2009, the beginning of a three-season run with the team. For him, Price has brought no surprises. Just reminders.

“He's been great,” Hibbert said. “He went on a Pacer hiatus for awhile, but he's playing with a lot of confidence. I love him.”

Price is quiet by nature and tends to keep to himself, but shares some meals and rides to the airport with Rodney Stuckey (who likely will return to the lineup on Wednesday). He was within a day or two of accepting an offer to play in China when the call came to join the Pacers in Boston on Oct. 7, and is therefore grateful to the Pacers for the opportunity to revive his NBA career.

At the very least, he's been able to remind other NBA teams that he belongs in the league. Somewhere.

“That was big for me, coming into this situation,” he said. “Whether I made it here or not … just kind of reassuring everybody that I belong, that I'm an NBA player, and that I want to be in the league.”

He also knows the harsh reality of his situation. To keep him, the Pacers would have to execute a trade that reduces their roster size or release someone else when injured players return. The league's roster exemption requires at least four players to be out for an extended time, and that's likely to change next week, when West and perhaps Watson return. So, coach Frank Vogel, as much as he loves Price's competitiveness and basketball IQ, isn't counting on having him around much longer.

“We have 15 guys on our roster,” Vogel said. “Somebody would have to go to do that. I think it's probably unlikely that happens.”

What's certain is that Price has three more games with the Pacers. For him, that's better than no games at all, or games in China.

“Just taking one day at a time,” he said.

“They gave me the opportunity, so I'm trying to do my best to reward them.”

Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.