Now that Marc Gasol and Robert Pera have come down from their tapas-and-wine bender across Barcelona, the last big-name free agent outside the LeBron Show is off the board. The first free-agency period of the NBA’s new money era mostly unfolded over a whirlwind 90 hours, starting with Al-Farouq Aminu’s move to Portland and ending when LaMarcus Aldridge broke away and headed to San Antonio.
Even when most players re-sign with their old teams, free agency jolts the league’s balance of power and explodes new trends in the player-sharing economy.
Let’s step back from the frenzy and pin down some early winners and losers.
Winner: The Spurs Borg Reboots
I’ve seen some hand-wringing over how Aldridge’s ball-stopping post-ups fit into the Spurs’ beautiful game, and about the depth San Antonio sacrificed — Cory Joseph, Aron Baynes, Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli — to make way for Aldridge. It’s fine to be cautious, but good god, Lemon, the Spurs’ old starting five was one of the best lineups in the NBA, and they just replaced Splitter with an All-Star who can defend almost as well, space the floor with a silky jumper, hit 3s, and bail out the offense with late-clock post-ups. This team is going to be ridiculous.
Remember when the Spurs benched Splitter against speedy postseason defenses who strangled their spacing? THEY JUST REPLACED THAT DUDE WITH LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE.
Aldridge feasts on the left block, Tim Duncan’s territory, and all that chucking masks what a well-rounded player he can be. He’s a skilled passer, and he can both dive and pop for jumpers out of the pick-and-roll with Tony Parker. It will take him a bit to feel the flow of the Spurs’ nonstop offense — the constant screening, the dribble hand-offs that connect one action to the next, the cutting and passing. But Aldridge is a high-IQ player who can adapt. The presence of a true no. 1 option eases the burden on both the aging stars and the young guys at risk of assuming too much, too fast.
Splitter’s strength was his combination of speed and true-center size. This was crucial to San Antonio’s defense: He could run Dirk Nowitzki off 3-pointers and bang with Zach Randolph. You know who else can do that? LaMarcus Aldridge! When he’s engaged, Aldridge is a very good defender — one of the best among bigs at switching onto smaller players, something that bodes well for a potential small-ball showdown against the Warriors.
Depth on the wing might be an issue, but Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, David West, and Patty Mills make for a nice first four off the bench. It appeared that the Spurs might have to deal Mills in order to fit Aldridge’s salary, but the smart money is on San Antonio finding a way to keep him — especially with Cory Joseph off to Toronto. West sacrificed $11 million (!) in declining his option with the Pacers and signing in San Antonio for the minimum — about $4 million less than Washington was ready to pay, and $2 million less than Golden State offered, per several league sources.
The Spurs don’t have an official backup center, but Aldridge can man up to the job against opposing reserves in lineups with Diaw or West that should feature five capable shooters. Ginobili is on his last legs, but if he has anything left, he should tear up opposing defenses running the pick-and-roll amid pristine spacing. Diaw and West have the heft to guard some backup centers if Aldridge prefers. This freaking team, man.
A lot of players will sacrifice major money so the Spurs can nab Aldridge and retain the foundational wing combo of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. That will not sit well with the players’ union. At the other extreme, players who wring out every dollar draw the ire of fans. Both lines of criticism are unfair. All humans should be free to choose the lifestyles they want. Duncan and West have placed a huge psychic value on winning, and that’s their choice. Guys like LeBron, Kobe Bryant, and Carmelo Anthony have fought for the most money possible, and that is their choice — a choice most of us make in our lives.
Chasing the max salary makes it harder to build championship-level rosters. That’s fundamental reality in a salary-capped league, and I haven’t heard one off-the-beaten-path solution1 that changes it. The Warriors couldn’t hoard championship depth without first inking Stephen Curry to an extension that looks beyond laughable today. Bryant’s insane extension has crippled the Lakers. Every dollar matters. That doesn’t mean we should criticize stars who fight for the money they deserve. The salary cap creates a zero-sum game they can’t win.
Two of the most popular — eliminating the max salary, and reserving one separate slot for a “franchise player,” something super-agent David Falk told me he has proposed — would just transfer the issue around a bit.
The Spurs? They always win. It’s too early to declare them undisputed favorites, especially since the reloading Cavs have a much easier path to the Finals. The Thunder could earn their way back into this stratosphere fast. The defending champs are young, and the Spurs are leaning on at least five key players over 30. But the Spurs have a chance to be devastating.
Loser: More Portland Sadness
What a sad story. This team coalesced into something special, and boom, 80 percent of the starting lineup is gone. I’ve seen some people wonder if Portland might win 35 or 40 games next year. The Blazers are going to be bad. Like, really bad. This is now a full-on rebuilding job, and they’ve started it well after paying the ultimate price for dancing with Aldridge until the very end. They made two nice trades around the draft, snagged Ed Davis on a solid contract, and made a semi-defensible bet signing Al-Farouq Aminu to a four-year deal. If you’re going to wager on uncertain upside, make sure you sign the guy for long enough that you actually reap the upside.
There was some snickering over Portland lavishing a five-year mega-max onto Damian Lillard,2 but that’s a no-brainer, despite his awful defense. Lillard slumped from deep last year, but a point guard who can nail 3s off the dribble is a foundational player in a pick-and-roll league. Lillard’s extension kicks in for the 2016-17 season, so it isn’t among the new deals that will look like bargains once the cap jumps to $90 million that season. But every rebuild needs a tentpole, and the extension takes Lillard through his prime. Signing it now and putting a huge cap number on the books for 2016-17 doesn’t crimp Portland’s flexibility, since they’ll have plenty of cap space anyway.
Depending on the precise terms, Lillard could be eligible for a higher max salary if he makes an All-NBA team next season — something I’d consider unlikely.
Rebuilding brings another bonus: Portland flipped Denver a first-round pick in the Arron Afflalo deal, but the Nuggets only get it if it falls outside the lottery in 2016 or 2017; after that, it morphs into a second-round pick. Denver shopped that pick ahead of the draft, per several league sources, but couldn’t find any takers, in part because teams expected the Blazers to sink upon Aldridge’s (likely) departure. Portland will probably keep that pick, and it’s set to carry more cap room into next season than anyone — space it could use to facilitate a trade or snag an asset from a team in need of tax relief.
The Blazers were second-tier contenders. If everything broke right, they might have made the Finals. First-tier contenders don’t need as much luck, which is why most second-tier teams rarely survive three playoff series — at least not in the West. Re-signing Aldridge might have trapped the Blazers in second-tier status — even with a cap boom that would have offered rare flexibility for a pseudo-contender. Watching a 50-win team is much more fun than watching a lottery crew, but at least the Blazers get to take a moonshot now.
Winner: 2016 Free Agents
Psst. Have you looked at next season’s free-agency class? Kevin Durant is the headliner, but it’s thin at the top after him. Among this season’s starry free agents, only Wade opted for a one-year deal that would plop him back into free agency for Year 1 of the cap extravaganza.3 Lillard and Anthony Davis, the two game-changers among next year’s potential restricted free agents, locked in deals a year early.
LeBron probably will, too, but he doesn’t count.
There are still some big names, including Al Horford, Mike Conley, Joakim Noah, and perhaps Dwight Howard,4 but next summer’s class lost star power when Kevin Love, Aldridge, and others chose security over higher-risk, higher-reward short-term deals. There will be more star-level salary slots next summer under the $90 million cap than star free agents.
He can opt out after next season.
That is very good news for Jeff Green, Luol Deng, Eric Gordon, Nic Batum, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, DeMar DeRozan, Chandler Parsons, and other third-banana types. These guys are going to get paid. DeRozan and Parsons hold player options for 2016-17, and the best intel is that both will opt out to secure longer-term deals based on the higher cap.
A word on the Pelicans: They sacrificed about $10 million in cap space next summer by extending Davis now instead of letting him into restricted free agency as San Antonio did with Kawhi Leonard.5 The Pelicans could offload some salary between now and then, but that $10 million represents real lost chances — the chance to sign one more quality player, or the extra flexibility to court a tandem. The Blazers, with a roster stripped bare, faced no such opportunity cost in yanking Lillard out of free agency early.
That allowed them to keep Leonard’s cheaper cap hold on the books. The Wizards will almost certainly do this with Bradley Beal.
It’s easy to look at a spreadsheet and criticize the Pelicans. The combination of restricted free agency and the ability to offer a super-max “Derrick Rose Rule” contract6 gave them about as much leverage as any team will have over a star player. Signing the one-year qualifying offer, as Greg Monroe did to shake free of Detroit, would have cost Davis $16 million in 2016-17 and as much as $30 million over the course of five years. He wasn’t going to do it.
Davis will be eligible for a higher percentage of the cap than most young players if he makes another All-NBA team — an easy benchmark for him.
But the Pelicans aren’t the Spurs, and Davis isn’t Leonard. He’s a generational superstar, and making him wait a year might have irked him. If things went poorly, Davis could have signed a three-year deal with another team, forced the Pelicans to match, and started the clock ticking toward his inevitable and premature divorce from New Orleans.
The Pelicans couldn’t afford even that small risk — not with a player like this, in a small market familiar with losing stars to glitzier places. Sometimes, spreadsheets don’t matter.
Winners and Losers: The DeAndre Jordan Edition
Predictions: The Clippers will be better than expected if healthy, the Mavs a bit worse, and Jordan will prove he can thrive without Chris Paul. The Clips will find a workable center somewhere, especially if they trade Jamal Crawford for Brendan Haywood’s non-guaranteed deal — a move, as reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein on Monday, that would give the Clips a trade chip to exchange for a big man.7
Some ideas: Zaza Pachulia, Chris Andersen, David Lee, Chris Kaman, and, if they want to get really daring, Nikola Pekovic. The Clippers can do some of these deals with Crawford alone, but they would lose them from a talent standpoint.
But with Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce onboard, the Clips can do damage with small-ball lineups featuring Blake Griffin at center. The Clips still have two of the league’s dozen best players, but they’re now doomed if one of them misses major time again.
Losing Jordan is still a disaster for a thin team that can’t afford any slippage on defense. The Clippers have almost certainly forfeited a precious season of title contention. Unless the Spurs, Warriors, and Thunder suffer horrible injury luck, it’s hard to see the Clippers without Jordan reaching a level high enough to compete with those teams — not to mention the Grizzlies and Rockets.
The Clips should have max-level cap space to chase a big man next season, but so will about 25 other teams, and most of the league’s top centers — including, ahem, Jordan — just signed long-term deals. The Clippers may join the sad ranks of the league’s great “what if?” teams after blitzing to within one quarter of the conference finals. They had an honest chance to win a championship, and they blew it. Doc Rivers sabotaged the team’s bench with a series of shaky moves, and he compounded that by banishing Spencer Hawes — a guy who could have actually helped them.
I’ve long defended Chris Paul, but he deserves some blame. As Kevin Arnovitz detailed at ESPN.com, a bunch of on- and off-court issues swirled around the Paul-Jordan relationship, and it degraded enough for Jordan to snap the connection. The tight friendship between Mark Cuban and Dan Fegan, the agent for both Chandler Parsons and Jordan, greased the wheels, but Paul played a role in busting up a contender.
But if Griffin and Paul stay healthy, hold off on booking these guys a seat at the lottery dais. They should still be really good. “Really good” just isn’t enough to get through the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Rockets.
Jordan is a major score for the Mavs, but this team needs to nail another offseason before we put them in the conversation with the best in the West. They’re thin, Wesley Matthews is coming off an Achilles tear (an injury that has ruined the careers of most who suffered it), and evidence suggests that Jordan alone can’t fix the Mavs’ leaky defense. But the offense should be fine, and the Mavs have proven over and over that Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki, and a semi-competent supporting cast is good for at least 45 wins.
The snark mob is waiting to pounce on Jordan if he struggles without Paul to loft feathery lobs that hang up like balloons. J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, and (maybe) Jeremy Lin are obvious downgrades, but they also represent just one piece in a five-man pick-and-roll puzzle. Nowitzki is the greatest shooting big man ever; he drags one opposing big out to the 3-point arc, freeing Jordan to rampage down the kind of wide-open lane he never saw with Griffin operating around the elbows.
Parsons is a solid pick-and-roll guy ready to take the reins, and while Rick Carlisle has had issues with flighty point guards, a bunch of otherwise blah ball handlers — including both Harris and Barea — have thrived playing within the spacing Nowitzki provides. Jameer Nelson had these guys humming early last season. He also had Monta Ellis to work as a lead ball handler, and there will be some adjustment with Ellis gone. But Jordan should be fine.
He might be even more valuable as a co-recruiter with Parsons next summer, should Parsons re-up. Dallas never found a franchise superstar in free agency, but the Mavs have now cobbled together an appealing support group for Nowitzki — one they can sell to future free agents. Nowitzki is playing on a Duncanesque discount, and the Mavs could have almost $20 million in cap room a year from now.
Participation Ribbons: The Swing-and-Miss Crew
Labeling anyone as “losers” a week into free agency is dumb, but any team will tell you: If you swing big and miss, it doesn’t feel good.
New York Knicks: Among free agents who were realistic bets to switch teams in 2010, the last time the Knicks went shopping with cap room, Amar’e Stoudemire probably ranked behind James, Wade, Chris Bosh, and Joe Johnson. For all the hubbub about how last week proved that the allure of big markets has dissipated, the Knicks don’t have much history of convincing superstar free agents to join a wretched roster.
Losing Monroe to Milwaukee hurt, and as I wrote here, Monroe’s mean-spirited post game and deft passing will fit well with the Bucks. Having Aldridge cancel a meet-and-greet because the Knicks were the last humans to realize he doesn’t want to play center is a small humiliation.
But New York rebounded with normal basketball moves, and normal is a wonderful change after 15 years of James Dolan haphazardly bouncing from one crazy win-now scheme to the next. The soft bigotry of low expectations might be at play here, though. Robin Lopez is a nice two-way center who will fit well in the triangle, but $13.5 million per season is at the tippy-top of his market. Arron Afflalo is a versatile pro, but he has long been overrated on defense, and if he plays well this season, he will opt right back into free agency. The Knicks punted on Iman Shumpert for cap space, and while Shumpert rankled New York officials at times, he’s a more intriguing long-term wing than Afflalo.
Derrick Williams can run and jump, but the Knicks blew past his market, and he has never demonstrated the passing-and-cutting IQ to play in the triangle. There are no caveats necessary on Kyle O’Quinn; getting a smart passing big with some range and bounce for at least three years, at $4 million per season, is a fantastic low-risk bet.
There is a weird dissonance here. Carmelo Anthony is 31, Afflalo is at the edge of his prime, and Lopez is not changing your franchise. Kids make up the rest of the roster. It feels like a less than 50-50 proposition that Anthony finishes out his five-year deal in New York. But this is a no-harm, no-foul offseason that sets the Knicks up to be a competitive team that might battle its way into the playoff race.
Los Angeles Lakers: This team will not battle its way into the playoff race, and it flat-out embarrassed itself in blowing a meeting with Aldridge before scheduling a face-saver two days later. They should have tried harder to retain Ed Davis, though every team that spends time with Davis grumbles about his low motor, nonexistent range, and terrible foul shooting.
Brandon Bass is a workable Davis replacement, and the Lakers got Lou Williams at a below-market deal that will age well (and function as a trade asset). Reviving Roy Hibbert is a fine way to use leftover cap space, and he’ll provide resistance at the rim for an otherwise overmatched group who barely bothered to try on defense last season.
The Lakers are waiting out Bryant’s extension. Laugh at their tarnished brand if you want, but these guys still get meetings with everyone. Aldridge had serious interest in them when free agency started, per several sources, and the Lakers will eventually learn from three straight summers of unrequited free-agency love. In the meantime, swallow another awful season, develop all the fun young guys, and give yourselves at least a chance of being bad enough to keep the top-three protected pick you owe Philadelphia.
Sacramento Kings: Everyone is busy applauding Sacramento for not barfing all over itself with its weekend signings, but three ho-hum deals for Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, and Kosta Koufos do not justify the ghastly trade that opened up the cap room for them. Sacramento outbid precisely no one to overpay Rondo on a one-year deal; by the time he accepted Sacramento’s handout, there were no teams left with cap room and interest in Rondo. Rondo is betting on himself, and if he wins, Sacramento might end up a pit stop for him.
Sacramento already had the cap room for one of these offers before gifting the Sixers a pile of draft assets. Clearing room for two of the three would have required just a little creativity, and maybe — maybe — the sacrifice of one trivial draft asset. I get all the explanations: The Kings need to win back DeMarcus Cousins’s fragile loyalty and field a competitive team when their new arena opens next season. They are sick of losing, and if a half-dozen huge things break right for them, they could chase the no. 8 seed. Belinelli provides spacing and a dash of playmaking, and Koufos is a starting-quality center.
I get all that. None of it justifies dealing Nik Stauskas, a future first-round pick, and swap rights — lottery balls, basically — when two-thirds of this spending would have been possible using only the stretch provision. Omri Casspi is a bargain on a two-year, $6 million deal, but the Kings had the means to sign him at that amount before Philly robbed them blind. And remember: This isn’t the East, where making the playoffs is easy and the Wizards, overeager to be above-average, could deal a future first-round pick for Marcin Gortat with borderline certainty the pick would fall outside the lottery.
The Koufos signing indicates that Karl’s voice carries weight after all; Karl loved coaching him in Denver. It also leaves the Kings with three bigs who operate around the basket, plus a fallback option should they trade Cousins. Vlade Divac, the Kings’ top personnel guy, insists the team has no intention of dealing Cousins, but this franchise hasn’t exactly behaved in predictable ways, and rival executives expect Cousins to be available.
Boston Celtics: The payoff was always going to be the hardest part. Stars rarely become available in their primes, and when they do, a half-dozen teams battle to get them. Love represented Boston’s best chance at a big score, and when he returned to the Cavs on a five-year deal,8 Boston pivoted back into asset-acquisition mode — a mode at which Danny Ainge is better than almost anyone.
Love has a player option on the fifth year
In a season in which just about everyone tacked player options onto the end of their contracts, Boston somehow got Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko to accept non-guaranteed second seasons. They immediately become appealing trade targets, though the cap relief those non-guaranteed years represent isn’t as powerful a lure now that the whole league is flush with cap room. Jae Crowder’s five-year, $35 million deal will look cheap as the cap rises, and Boston was smart to retain him for as long as possible.
It was puzzling that Boston didn’t make a run at Tobias Harris, and the Celtics are clearly frustrated that Charlotte rebuffed a monster offer for the no. 9 pick. Fans are getting restless, but rebuilds take time. Boston will strike at some point, and the Celtics are among a pile of teams hoping Love will eventually force his way out of Cleveland.
Phoenix Suns: I’m not sure any team has experienced a crazier calendar year than Phoenix. They were a feel-good story with a point guard hydra, and in a flash, they transformed into a group of mouthy malcontents who traded two of their three point guards — plus that juicy top-three protected Lakers pick. And then, out of nowhere, they went all in for Aldridge. They signed Tyson Chandler mostly to lead their Aldridge recruiting mission, broke up the Morris twins with a cap dump on Detroit, and would have dealt Markieff Morris had Aldridge signed on.
That is a lot of trauma, spurred on in part by Robert Sarver, the team’s owner. Sarver has grown impatient with Phoenix’s playoff drought, and has urged the basketball staff to take huge swings in free agency, per several league sources.
The future feels murkier than it did before the trade deadline blow-up. Chandler is here, at age 32, to play four years in front of Alex Len — a young center the team considers a cornerstone. Brandon Knight has to live up to the Lakers pick, and a new $70 million deal. The Suns didn’t sacrifice much to free space for Aldridge, but they are moving in several directions at once.
There is a lot to unpack here; stay tuned for more.
Miami Heat: Stay tuned for more here, too. We all assume things will work out for Miami, because the Heat are the Heat, and Riles is the godfather with a pile of bling to toss in front of free agents over the next two summers. Hell, Justise Winslow just fell into their laps. But the Heat have traded three first-round picks and some cap flexibility to build around Goran Dragic, a 29-year-old speed demon working on a five-year deal, and two stars on the wrong side of 30.
There might not be a more fascinating long-term situation in the league. In the meantime, bringing Wade back on a one-year, $20 million deal puts the Heat about $13 million over the projected tax line, and Miami wants no part of the harsh repeater penalties that would come with paying the tax for a fourth time in five seasons. Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen are available for nothing, per several league sources, and the Heat have even put out Shabazz Napier feelers with an eye on carving out extra cap room next summer.
Any team with a need at power forward — Toronto, Indiana, Utah — should see whether they might snag Josh McRoberts for a second-round pick (or two).
Detroit Pistons: Detroit was never going to land a home run with its cap space bonanza, but its free agency feels like a dull meal without one killer dish. Ersan Ilyasova is a really good 2011-era stretch big that the league has largely figured out. Aron Baynes has a niftier offensive game than you might think, but he’s a 28-year-old backup, and the Pistons paid him almost $7 million per season for some reason — more than Memphis will pay Brandan Wright. It’s possible a team over the cap might have offered Baynes the full midlevel exception, about $5.5 million per season, but I haven’t found one.
The Suns’ salary dump is fine; Marcus Morris will do well in Detroit, and we might actually get to see if Reggie Bullock can play. This still feels like insufficient return for the cap space that could have gone to Monroe — even if Monroe and Andre Drummond made for an awkward fit at times.
In cold financial terms, Detroit misread the market on Reggie Jackson in signing him to a five-year, $80 million deal late in free agency. Jackson did well running Stan Van Gundy’s spread pick-and-roll offense around Andre Drummond, but he can’t shoot, and the Pistons had no one to outbid. The point guard market dried up.
In emotional terms, you can explain away this deal. Jackson wants to be loved, and the Pistons just bought $80 million of good locker room vibes. Their experience with Monroe taught them to fear the threat of a restricted free agent rejecting a “lowball” deal, signing the one-year qualifying offer, and getting the hell out of town. Was Jackson going to risk that after banking “just” $5.8 million over his first four seasons?
Probably not. But the avalanche of cap room coming next summer gives Jackson leverage that past restricted free agents didn’t have. When only a half-dozen suitors were primed to spend, a team in Detroit’s position could dare their restricted free agents: “Go to the market. There are five teams who can bid for you, and four of them have someone at your position.” Point guard is loaded, but if Jackson had entered unrestricted free agency after a strong season, some team would have opened the vault.
Still: Detroit could have squeezed a better deal. Patrick Beverley isn’t on Jackson’s level as a playmaker, but he’s a good player who drew real interest, and Houston let him hang before re-signing him to a cheapo four-year, $25 million deal. Detroit had some leverage, and even with the cap booming, every dollar counts.
The damage isn’t serious, and at least everyone will be happy — a good first step in Detroit. I am curious to see if the Jackson-Ilyasova-Drummond spread pick-and-roll structure looks better on paper than in reality. It would have killed teams three years ago, but the league has gotten smarter about ducking under picks against point guards with shaky jumpers, and switching against bigs who can’t do much damage in the post.
Van Gundy will get the most out of these guys, and Jackson, at 25, might be a late bloomer now that he’s getting to run a team.
Winners: Second-Level Contenders Nailing the Little Things
Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizz may never gather the firepower to win three series in the West, but they have nailed every fringe move since forfeiting a first-round pick to dump Marreese Speights’s contract almost three seasons ago. They butted their way into a three-way salary dump to steal Matt Barnes, and getting Wright at the full midlevel — three years, $18 million — is a heist. He’s better than Koufos, their old backup, at a lower cost.
Washington Wizards: There’s nothing fancy here, but they got Jared Dudley for nothing and Gary Neal for the biannual exception — just over $2 million. Dudley did great work in Milwaukee as a small-ball power forward, but he’s not a full Paul Pierce replacement. He doesn’t have a legacy of big-balls shot-making, and he can’t create shots off the dribble or from the post when a possession is dying.
But these are smart signings for a team making them on the regular these days. They are one of the few teams left who might realistically spend the full midlevel, and with West off to the Spurs, they have to move on to their second choice.
Toronto Raptors: I’m intrigued. Toronto has emphasized defense, 3-and-D wing play, and Canadian-ness in an interesting summer so far. Let’s see how the Raptors fill out the front line, which will hint at how serious they are about playing both DeMarre Carroll and James Johnson heavy minutes as small-ball power forwards. Toronto probably doesn’t want to start a Patrick Patterson–Jonas Valanciunas frontcourt after that pairing struggled on defense last season.
Indiana Pacers: This is another roster that will feel unfinished until they ink one or two more big men to flesh out a thin frontcourt. The Pacers for now appear serious about playing big minutes with Paul George at power forward, a move that would open up the offense but also expose George to major pounding in his first full season back from a catastrophic leg injury.
In the meantime, Monta Ellis brings some slicing off-the-bounce dynamism these guys badly need, and the Pacers are better equipped than almost anyone to hide him on defense. George Hill can defend most shooting guards, meaning the Pacers can shift Ellis around to the weakest perimeter player more freely than Dallas could. George has never been a great arc-to-rim driver, and though Hill excelled last season under a heavier scoring load, he can munch on spot-up looks when Ellis runs possessions. Rodney Stuckey feels redundant, especially since he’s a minus defender at any position, but the Pacers will need a lot of wings if they plan to go small a ton.