Pritchard Reviews the Offseason

November 25, 2020: Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard discusses his mindset this offseason, re-signing Justin Holiday and JaKarr Sampson and drafting Cassius Stanley.

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Pritchard Reviews the Offseason

November 25, 2020: Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard discusses his mindset this offseason, re-signing Justin Holiday and JaKarr Sampson and drafting Cassius Stanley.
Nov 25, 2020  |  02:31

Pritchard Provides Updates on Oladipo, Sabonis & Lamb

November 25, 2020: Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard provides the latest on the health of Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Jeremy Lamb.
Nov 25, 2020  |  01:54

Pritchard Hoping Roster Continuity, New Coach is Winning Combination

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard went into free agency with an open mind. He and the rest of the front office laid out a number of potential plans to reshape Indiana's roster heading into the 2020-21 season.

In the end, they decided to run it back, keeping the core of the roster intact. The Pacers' biggest move of the offseason was re-signing Justin Holiday, a veteran wing valued for his contributions off the bench and in the locker room. Indiana projects to open training camp with its top 13 players from last season's roster – both in terms of scoring average and minutes played – back in blue and gold.

"We felt that bringing this team back, having some continuity, was really important," Pritchard said Wednesday in a Zoom press conference.

"When you look at teams that have gone deep into the playoffs, either they've made a huge move or they've had some serious continuity. So one of the things we decided (was) it was either going to be a big move or we were going to value continuity."

That's not to say that Pritchard didn't consider a shake-up to the roster. He acknowledged reports that the Pacers looked into acquiring Gordon Hayward in a potential sign-and-trade with Boston, saying they "pursued as hard as we personally could," but no deal was reached for the one-time All-Star and former Brownsburg and Butler star.

Pritchard also said he spoke to the players whose names were mentioned in trade talks with Boston, continuing a policy of transparency he began a few years ago out of respect for players' families.

"When we didn't do a deal we let those players know that we want them back and we want them two feet in," Pritchard said. "They both said – the players that we were talking about in terms of this trade – both said "No problem" and they were extremely thankful that we let them know."

And so the Pacers head into training camp with nearly the same roster they did a season ago, but are hoping for better health this time around.

The 2019-20 season was bookended by significant injuries to Indiana's two All-Stars, with Victor Oladipo sitting out until Jan. 29 while rehabbing a ruptured quad tendon and Domantas Sabonis missing the entire season restart in Orlando due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot. A number of other players, most notably starting point guard Malcolm Brogdon, also missed significant time over the course of the season due to various ailments.

Pritchard did make a major change after the season, replacing head coach Nate McMillan, who had led the Pacers to the playoffs for four straight seasons but failed to get out of the first round, with Nate Bjorkgren, a disciple of Toronto's Nick Nurse, the reigning NBA Coach of the Year.

The hope is that the Pacers can take a leap next season with the combination of improved health and Bjorkgren's more modern approach to the game and player development.

Pritchard said the players expressed excitement about the continuity on the roster.

"The feedback I got from Malcolm and from Victor and from T.J. (Warren) is we need to see what this team is healthy," Pritchard said. "We need to see what this team is with a little bit different system. We're excited about that."

Victor Oladipo, Bam Adebayo

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

The biggest questions heading into training camp center around Oladipo. The two-time All-Star showed flashes of his former self at times last year but also plenty of rust after a year-long layoff, posting the worst field goal (.394) and 3-point (.317) percentages of his career. Unless he agrees to a contract extension, Oladipo will be an unrestricted free agent next season, but recently told The Athletic he is "fully committed" to the Pacers.

"Victor and his agent not only have said they want to be here, but they have pounded the table that they want to be here and they're two feet in," Pritchard said Wednesday. "That was my question at the end of last year to Victor. I think it took him some time to talk about what are his long-term goals.

"I got a call from his agent yesterday and it's the same thing. Can't wait to get to camp, he can't wait to show that he's healthy and that he's 100 percent committed. I have to take people at their word. We're going to get asked the question a ton. The reality is I'm going to let the relationship I have with Victor stand on its own merits."

Pritchard added that he felt Bjorkgren had developed a strong relationship with Oladipo in the weeks since he was hired, putting in time to build trust with the star guard.

Health-wise, Pritchard said he expected Oladipo to be "100 percent" entering training camp. Sabonis should also be fully available, though the training staff will monitor his foot in the early part of the season.

The one player who will miss the start of training camp is Jeremy Lamb, who tore his ACL on Feb. 23 in Toronto, but Pritchard said the 6-5 guard has made "incredible" progress and should be cleared to practice sometime in December with the hope of a mid-January return to game action.

One change that Pritchard sees under Bjorkgren will be focusing more on player development and long-term goals rather than simply trying to win as many games as possible to get the best possible playoff seed.

While Pritchard pushed back on the idea of "load management," he did acknowledge that it could mean reducing minutes for key players at certain points in the season in order to give other members of the roster a chance to contribute.

"To me it means like you're 10 games into the season, you have a player who's on the bench who hasn't played as much but he's practicing very well, maybe he gets a crack for four or five games," Pritchard said. "Maybe you throw a guy in there and give him an opportunity.

"We're going to try to do our best to get this team peaking at the right time. And that sometimes comes with consequences during the season. We're not going to put short-term decisions ahead of getting this team prepared for the playoffs and the long term."

One player that could benefit from that philosophical change is Cassius Stanley, whom Indiana drafted with the 54th overall pick in last week's NBA Draft. The 21-year-old out of Duke is an explosive athlete with a 46-inch vertical leap.

"Cassius in my opinion was one of the best athletes in college basketball," Pritchard said. "I spent a lot of time talking to Coach K (about) the person that he is. He called him one of the best kids he's ever coached and he told me that he thought if he came back for another year that he would have been for sure a lottery pick."

Stanley will enter training camp with a chance to earn a spot on the Pacers' 15-man roster. While Indiana has entered camp with 15 players on guaranteed contracts in recent seasons, Pritchard said he wants to have an open competition for the last spot or two on the roster this year.

Indiana will invite 18-20 players to training camp with only 13 or 14 contracts guaranteed. The Pacers also have both two-way contracts available, which allow 16th and 17th members of the roster to split time between the Pacers' G League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, and the NBA club.

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