2019 Postseason Press Conference: Kevin Pritchard's Opening Statement

May 1, 2019 - Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard reflects on the 2018-19 Pacers season and looks ahead to the offseason in his annual postseason press conference.

2019 Postseason Press Conference

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2019 Postseason Press Conference: Kevin Pritchard's Opening Statement

May 1, 2019 - Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard reflects on the 2018-19 Pacers season and looks ahead to the offseason in his annual postseason press conference.
May 1, 2019  |  11:14

2019 Postseason Press Conference: Nate McMillan's Opening Statement

May 1, 2019 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan reflects on the 2018-19 Pacers season and looks ahead to the offseason in his annual postseason press conference.
May 1, 2019  |  05:06

Pritchard and McMillan on Pacers' Offseason Priorities

May 1, 2019 - Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard and head coach Nate McMillan discuss how the Pacers can improve next season and their goals in free agency and potential trade discussions.
May 1, 2019  |  02:34

2019 Postseason Press Conference: Pritchard Assesses the Draft Class

May 1, 2019 - Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard talked about the team's draft position and what they see from this year's group of prospects.
May 1, 2019  |  01:34

Pritchard Eager to Start Dramatic Offseason

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

It's the summer of unprecedented cap space. Also the summer of opportunity, thinking on your feet, acting quickly, and taking some educated risks.

Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan met with the media on Wednesday to wrap up the Pacers season that ended with 48 victories and a first-round playoff exit, but more importantly to look ahead to an immediate future that likely will have major ramifications on the next few seasons, at least.

The Pacers have seven free agents among the 13 players who dressed for their playoff games, at least $43 million in cap space, and the 18th pick in the NBA Draft. They'll try to piece together the puzzle of those roster openings, available money, and other assets to try to bring improvement to a team that has exceeded expectations each of the past two seasons but hasn't advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2014.

Pritchard promised to be "super aggressive" in his approach to the franchise's reconstruction period, with no limits placed on his resources for doing so by owner Herb Simon. Pritchard has just one proven All-Star caliber player in Victor Oladipo, and obviously needs more to compete with those teams still operating in the playoffs.

That means they won't shy away from pursuing anyone out of a belief they have no shot.

"We'll go after 'em," Pritchard said during the press conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. "We'll make the pitches. We're not afraid. We're willing to think big.

"I gave my management staff a book here recently, The Magic of Thinking Big. We want to think big. It may happen, it may not happen. One thing we believe very strongly in is that once you sign with us we'll do our best to make you feel comfortable here and we'll do that with our daily actions."

Pritchard emphasized that cap space can be utilized beyond signing free agents. It could enable the Pacers (and other teams) under the cap to make uneven trades that don't conform to the rule that the salaries of traded players must be within 25 percent of one another. The Pacers, for example, could trade a player earning $5 million for one making $15 if another team is looking to shed payroll.

The luxury tax won't come into play for the Pacers this summer unless they re-sign most or all of their free agents. The tax only comes into play when teams have used all their cap space and want to re-sign one of their own free agents.

Pritchard, however, said he is confident owner Herb Simon will allow him to cross the tax threshold when the time comes, if necessary.

"Herb wants to win," Pritchard said.

"We set a budget. It's a very high budget, I will tell you that. Herb has never told me no if it makes the team better. Not one time. I want to think big, but the one thing we take a lot of pride in here is paying players appropriately. We have a hierarchy that we believe in. But if a special circumstance comes up, I have no hesitation in believing Herbie will say, 'Let's do it, if it's the right player and it can take us to another level.'"

The Pacers also have the 18th pick in the draft. Pritchard said he would "not be surprised" if it's used in a trade and promised to be aggressive with it.

All in all, the summer represents a rare opportunity for Pritchard and his staff to remake the roster, but also exceptional pressure to make the right decisions.

Pritchard can't wait to get started.

"I'm more excited about the draft and free agency than I've ever been," he said. "There's such a high degree of variability. I don't know if it's even possible to come up with every scenario. We spend hours on the board going, 'OK, so if he goes here and he goes here, and they spend their money, does that make this player (available)?' Because almost 40 percent of the players in this league are free agents, you're going to have unbelievable movement. I think we have to be prepared to be opportunistic and I think we have to be able to do it very quickly. You have to be able to move at a moment's notice, and you have to be in those conversations.

"When Larry (Bird) was the president and I was the general manger, my job was to pound the pavement and understand what was going on. So I've challenged Peter (Dinwiddie) and Chad (Buchanan) and Kelly (Krauskopf) to pound the pavement. I want to know exactly what's going on and what could go on. We're going to call audibles. This is the audible summer. So I think if you're prepared with your rankings with your hierarchy and when you've done your intel and you know what players fit us and what players don't and what you're willing to spend on these players, I think that gives you an opportunity to call the right audible."

While smaller market teams generally don't fare as well in the free agent marketplace, Pritchard believes the Pacers' culture and facilities could help facilitate some opportunities.

"We believe we are player-centric," Pritchard said. "The players know they'll be taken care of...and they know we're going to win. The more you can prove you will take care of your players and you develop your players and you're all about winning, then you have a chance."

Among other topics Pritchard and McMillan addressed:

The Previous Season

Pritchard said he was proud of the team that earned a four-seed in the playoffs despite the loss of Oladipo for 46 games.

"When you lose Victor, you not only lose a talent on the floor, Victor brings a presence," Pritchard said. "He hits the reset button every day and … that refreshing personality probably was what we missed most."

Oladipo's Return

Pritchard said it's too soon to know when Oladipo — who suffered a ruptured quad tendon on Jan. 23 — will be able to play again, but is confident he will be 100 percent when he does.

"You have the surgery, and for about 12 or 13 weeks it's just about healing," Pritchard said. "Now it flips into the physical therapy part. He's just starting that therapy part.

"I had dinner with him on Sunday, and he made it perfectly clear to me he's going to be back and a be better player. When that is, I'm not sure. But it's coming along really nicely and he feels good about it. In Victor style, he has promised he'll come back at 200 to 300 percent of what he was. When you talk to him like that, how do you not believe him? It's so contagious, his personality. I remember leaving that dinner on Sunday thinking, 'Man, we're going to be really good next year.'"

Areas in Need of Improvement

Pritchard referenced the Pacers' orientation toward defense in recent seasons and cited a need for more offense.

"You're seeing an offensive league and the rules are changing to give the offensive guy even more advantage," he said. "So, I think we've got to look at the offensive side of the ball. We've got to bring players that do one of two things, or both. We need some creation. We need a guy who can break down a defense. And shot-making is always going to be paramount, but it's more paramount than it's ever been before. When you have four or five guys out there with one or two who can create and other guys who can really shoot, it's almost impossible to stop a team.

"When Victor played, he was that creator. When we signed Tyreke (Evans), we wanted him to be that creator. But you don't have to be a point guard or a two-guard to be a creator. Domas (Sabonis) creates a lot of offense for us. It doesn't have to be a certain position.

"We want to get faster. I really want to do a deep dive on the guys who create and...I love a great passing team. Passing is contagious and there were times this past year where the ball really moved — we had an unselfish team — but if we can get another passer or creator out there with Victor, I think that gives us a lot of opportunities."

The Pacers were one of the slower-paced teams last season, ranking 27th in average number of possessions. It's not an absolute asset — Atlanta, which did not make the playoffs, ranked first and Denver, which ranked 28th, is still playing — but McMillan would like to play faster. Oladipo's return obviously would help in that area. McMillan also wants to be able to shoot more 3-pointers. The Pacers ranked 29th in both makes and attempts last season.

"I would like to see us get faster," McMillan said. "3-point shooting is a major part of NBA basketball. I would like to see us get more attempts."

McMillan added that doing so will require both revised structure to the offense and different personnel.

"The personnel allows you to play a style of basketball to create that," he said. "We're not going to run and gun. We're not going to jack up contested threes just for the sake of getting more attempts. Ball movement and pace can create those opportunities for you. That tempo, that pace that we're trying to be consistent at, we weren't consistent this year. Victor was the guy who established that tempo and pace."

Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Domantas Sabonis' Future

Sabonis showed continued improvement last season, averaging 14.1 points on 59 percent shooting and a team-best 9.3 rebounds. He's eligible for an extension to his rookie contract in October, just as Myles Turner was last year. If an extension is not signed he becomes a restricted free agent and the Pacers can match any offer he receives.

"With Domas, in the exit meetings...he's just a nice guy, a really good human being," Pritchard said. "All indications are that he loves what we're building and he wants to be part of it. I think he wants a bigger role. I think we need to figure out how to get him a bigger role. He is a major force offensively. He can be a player who has a huge impact; not just as a sixth man but maybe as a starter.

"The one thing I know with Domas, he's going to make himself better this summer. He texted me last week, when can he start getting back in the gym and can we get one of the coaches to start working with him? His role will be bigger."

The Turner-Sabonis Conundrum

Sabonis' growth adds fuel to the argument that he and Turner should start together. Their pairing had a decidedly negative statistical impact on games in the 2017-18 season, but a positive influence this past season when they played together for longer stretches of time.

For Sabonis to get more than the 24.8 minutes he averaged last season, he likely would have to start with Turner.

"They can play together," McMillan said. "You look at some of these teams in the playoffs, these teams are big. I think the game is going to turn and you're going to see more big forwards and centers playing together again, as opposed to the spread four that you've seen the last five or 10 years.

"They played a lot together this season and they were able to adapt to how teams were defending them when they were out there together."

Pritchard issued no command that they be used together more often, but believes it will work itself out if they continue to expand their skills.

"I believe good players figure it out," he said. "Myles is getting to the point he's an elite defender and we have to use him more offensively. He said in his exit meeting he wants to be more of a two-way player. Sabonis' ceiling is really high offensively, but if he can become a better defender then I don't think there's any doubt they can play together, and play major minutes together.

"I don't want to pigeonhole myself into anything because of our flexibility. I want us to build a roster that's really good. In my mind I see those guys playing a lot of minutes together. But my job is to get the best talent and help Nate look at a team in a way he feels he can maximize its potential. And then I hand the team off, and I have ultimate trust in him and how he uses those players."

Aaron Holiday's Role

The rookie point guard averaged 5.9 points in 50 games last season and showed flashes of being a starter-quality player. McMillan said it's impossible to predict his role next season without knowing what point guards will be acquired or re-signed in the offseason, but he spoke optimistically of Holiday's future.

"I'm very comfortable with him," McMillan said. "He has a maturity about him...whenever he got the opportunity to play he played with confidence and did some good things for us.

In the playoffs, I actually put him out there because I wanted to see us play faster. I think he has that capability to do that. I think he should be a rotational player next season and a guy who can play the one and the two. There are certainly areas he'll need to grow, but I like what he brings to the floor. He's a young kid who has a great deal of confidence. I think he can help us. Improving tempo, pace, 3-point shooting — he brings all that to the floor. He certainly should be in rotation next year."

Also...

Asked about his interest in re-signing Bojan Bogdanovic, who averaged 18 points last season and hit 42.5 percent of his 3-point shots, Pritchard said: "We would like to have extensive talks with Bojan. He's not restricted, so he's going to have interest (from other teams). We can feel that already. You can feel that at the trade deadline when people are talking about players. On July 1, I'm pretty sure I'll have a good conversation with Bojan."

McMillan praised second-year forward TJ Leaf's improvement. Leaf only averaged 3.9 points, but played well late in the season and scored 28 points in the final regular season game at Atlanta, when he got to start while most of the starters were rested.

"I love TJ's feel for the game," McMillan said. "I think he's one of the best post players we have. He's patient down in the post, he rebounds the ball, he's long. The thing he needs to add his strength.

"I think he can be a spread four."

McMillan also said he withdrew from the USA Basketball coaching staff headed by Gregg Popovich because of conflicts with the Pacers schedule. The gold medal game in FIBA World Cup play will be played on Sept. 15. The Pacers open training camp the following week and will go to India for preseason games shortly after that.

"My first obligation is to the Pacers," McMillan said.


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.

Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

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.

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