State of the Cap: Indiana Pacers
2010/11 Indiana Pacers Payroll: $64.6 million
2010/11 NBA Salary Cap: $56.1 million
Roughly: $8.5 million over cap
The Good: Danny Granger. Roy Hibbert. Dahntay Jones.
The Indiana Pacers invested heavily in Danny Granger to be the main focus of their offense and he has repaid that investment quite well so far. Granger scored 24.2 points per game this season, good for 8th in the league. He also added 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists and shot a decent percentage from the three point line. Granger has proven that he is one of the best scorers in the league, but to continue giving the Pacers their money’s worth, he will have to start winning more games for them, too. He has four years and $50 million left on his contract, starting with $10.9 million next year and escalating to $14 million in his final year. That kind of money is getting into Dwyane Wade territory and Granger hasn’t yet shown that he is a team-carrying superstar instead of just a stats guy. He also needs to stay healthier because the Pacers can’t really live without him. He missed 15 games last season and 20 games this year. Hopefully, with a better supporting cast around him, Granger can become something more than the stellar numbers he has put up the past few years.
Can you guess who the third leading scorer on the Pacers was this year behind Granger and Troy Murphy? Would you believe it was second year center Roy Hibbert? In just 25 minutes a game, Hibbert averaged 11.7 points and shot nearly 50% from the field, showing a nice scoring touch around the basket. He also lead the team in blocks, swatting 1.6 shots a game. His rebounding could be better (5.7), but his improvement over his rookie year shows that he might become a pretty decent starting center. Back in 2007, when Hibbert was battling against Greg Oden in the NCAA Final Four, who would have thought that Hibbert would have the more productive NBA career thus far? Indiana still has him under his rookie contract for two more seasons.
Another unlikely source of production came from journeyman Dahntay Jones. He has been with four different teams the past four years, yet with the Pacers he found a way to average career highs in points (10.2), rebounds (3.0), and assists (2.0) and shot 46% from the field. His contract is dirt cheap, too, paying him between $2.5 and $2.9 million the next three seasons. If Jones can prove this year wasn’t a fluke, he’ll be an excellent bargain for this team.
The Bad: Jamaal Tinsley. Jeff Foster. Mike Dunleavy. T.J. Ford.
Two veterans who are not part of the Pacer’s future will still count against the cap next season. Jamaal Tinsley is no longer with the team, yet he has a $5.5 million cap number under the final year of his old contract. Jeff Foster was missing in action after battling injuries all season and finally having back surgery. He will be paid $6.6 million next year. That’s $12.1 million tied up in dead weight. Indiana will be glad to get rid of them.
Unfortunately, they both pale in comparison to the worst contract on the team, which belongs to Mike Dunleavy. Somehow, Dunleavy will get $10.5 million for the 2010-11 campaign, a prime example of why the owners want to restructure the collective bargaining agreement. Dunleavy had a horrible season, averaging just 9.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists on dismal 41% shooting, his worst stats since his rookie year. The only good thing about his contract is that he will be in his final season, so perhaps Indiana can turn his expiring deal into an asset.
Point guard T.J. Ford actually played pretty well in his first season in Indiana. His second season, however, was much worse. Ford missed 35 games due to injury, went from scoring 15.0 points to 10.3 points per game, and averaged a career worst 3.8 assists. He has a player option next year for $8.5 million, but I’m going to guess he doesn’t opt out of it considering his recent poor play. Like Dunleavy, Ford could be a tradable asset providing the Pacers find another point guard to replace him (Earl Watson, their other main PG, is a free agent this summer). Otherwise, they are stuck paying him a bit more than he is worth.
The Future: The ugly side of Indiana’s next season is that they have 13 players under contract who return from a team that won just 32 games. The bright side is that, for most of those players, it will be the final year of their contract. The Pacers will have a chance to remake their team very quickly with one of two options. They could go the patient route, take their lumps next year, and then go into free agency with a wide open salary cap. Or, they could use their seven expiring contracts to make some big trades to try and improve immediately. The best solution is probably a little bit of both. If a beneficial trade comes along, you can pull the trigger. However, you can’t go crazy with trades, otherwise you may end up hurting your team’s long term finances and ruining any chance you might have at an important free agent.
The Pacers have a very good player in Danny Granger, but he isn’t LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. He can’t carry a team by himself, he is going to need help. This team has a great chance to do just that. The Pacers need to be careful, though, so they don’t end up right back in this position a couple years from now.