INDIANAPOLIS – For the third time in four years, the Pacers begin their offseason having been swept.
The Pacers lost to the Heat by an average of 10.5 points per game, holding a fourth-quarter lead for just 11 seconds in the entire four-game series.
What are some offseason storylines to watch for the Pacers?
1. Decision(s) On Victor Oladipo
Victor Oladipo, 28, is currently under contract for one more season with the Pacers. He’s due $21 million for the 2020-21 campaign, before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
With the Pacers, Oladipo could sign a four-year extension, worth $112.9 million. If he bets on himself next season, he could seek out an even bigger pay, no matter where he signs.
Kevin Pritchard and his comrades must find answers to two Oladipo-related questions:
-Do the Pacers feel Oladipo can still be the top guy on a championship-level team?
-Do the Pacers think Oladipo wants to remain with the Pacers in the long-term?
If Indiana believes the answer to either of those questions is ‘no’ then they need to look long and hard at trying to move Oladipo this offseason.
It’s not ideal, and the answers to life after Oladipo aren’t crystal clear, but that’s the reality of business in the NBA, especially in this market.
2. Playoff Issue
It’s the massive elephant in the room for this franchise right now.
-The Pacers have lost 9 straight playoff games (by an average of 8 points per game), which is easily the longest such drought in franchise history.
-The Pacers are 3-16 in their last 19 playoff games, having been swept 3 times in the last 4 years.
-Since the Pacers last won a playoff series (2014), 20 of the NBA’s 30 teams have won at least one series.
No matter how you slice it, those are ugly, ugly figures.
Yes, the injury situations have been less than ideal, but the Pacers still haven’t been able to carry the regular season success we’ve seen without full-strength lineups into just 1 playoff win.
Even if the Pacers go out and win 60 games next regular season, there will still be the looming mental hurdle of this playoff drought hanging over them.
3. Believing In New Bigs
In 2019-20, the Pacers decided it was time to start their young bigs together.
Domantas Sabonis had an All-Star campaign, averaging 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.
Myles Turner saw his numbers slightly dip, despite playing a little more. Turner averaged 12.1 points per game, 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, while shooting a career-low 45.7 percent from the field.
There were some positive moments from the two playing together, but some questions still remain on if this is the most effective usage for the starting lineup.
If the Pacers decide that going smaller—thus having just one of Turner or Sabonis on the floor together—is the best route moving forward, exploring a trade for one of them would be wise.
Now, the depth at the center position needs to see big strides from Goga Bitadze, if this is to be pulled off and the Pacers still feel good about their 5-position.
But a decision needs to come on if the Turner/Sabonis pairing is going to continue. Turner is under contract through 2021-22. Sabonis is under contract through 2022-23.
4. Coaching Staff Evolving
There are reasons why giving Nate McMillan a contract extension made sense.
But doing that had to come with the caveat that evolvement from him, and his entire coaching staff, is a must.
Nate McMillan has now coached 16 seasons in the NBA. He’s 661-588 (.529) in the regular season and 17-36 (.321) in the playoffs. He is 1-8 in playoff series, having lost 6 straight.
It’s that stark contrast in regular season performance compared to the playoffs that has to change.
For McMillan, that means looking at his approach to an 82-game regular season and how that impacts his teams in the postseason.
Do you try and pace yourself a bit more during an 82-game grind? Do we see McMillan shake up his coaching staff, with the offensive shortcomings continuing to be an issue? What about McMillan’s overall philosophy on shooting threes in today’s NBA?
Complacency, and just hoping that improved health will definitely change things, cannot be relied upon.
McMillan’s resume shows this: a better than average regular season coach, who’s teams routinely falter in the postseason.
That constant trend, across three franchises, needs to be looked into.
5. Team Health
Injuries were a huge storyline for the 2019-20 Pacers.
And, honestly, it wasn’t that surprising.
Unfortunately, Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren brought long history resumes with them to Indiana. And while Warren stayed pretty healthy, Brogdon had more than a handful of ailments sideline him for more than 20 games.
Jeremy Lamb ripped up his knee and he was sorely missed in the bubble. Domantas Sabonis was healthy for nearly the entire season but missed the entire bubble with plantar fasciitis.
And you have the Victor Oladipo situation still lingering in just how healthy/effective he can be moving forward.
Now, no one should expect the Pacers to suffer the amount of injuries they did again. But there are definitely some guys on this team who you do worry about health wise.
6. Justin Holiday Returning?
On the contract books, the Pacers have virtually their entire rotation under contract for the 2020-21 season.
They have two unrestricted free agents this offseason: Justin Holiday and JaKarr Sampson. Forward Alize Johnson is a restricted free agent
Obviously, of those names Holiday is the most important (although Sampson brought showed some nice energy during the Orlando bubble).
After playing for 6 different teams in his NBA career, Holiday looked pretty comfortable coming off the bench for Indiana.
Holiday, 31, had one of the best seasons of his career with Indiana. He hit 42.8 percent of his shots, including a career-best 40.5 percent from behind the arc.
At 6-6, Holiday can guard multiple spots on the other end of the floor.
During the Orlando bubble, it was announced that Holiday was switching agents. Was that in an effort to cash in one more (multi-year) substantial contract after such a promising season? Or is Holiday just looking for a nice pay day in staying with his younger brother, Aaron, for at least another year?
Financially, the Pacers don’t have a ton of current cap room, but should have enough to re-sign Holiday.