Pacers explore shakeup, instead wind up with historic continuity

Sport

The Pacers have been the model of consistently adequate.

Everyone involved seemed tired of that.

Two weeks after announcing a contract extension for coach Nate McMillan, Indiana fired him. The Pacers’ biggest star, Victor Oladipo, reportedly looked into leaving ahead of his contract year. Indiana reportedly offered Myles Turner, a first-round pick and another rotation player to the Celtics for a Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade.

But when the dust settled, the Pacers were nearly completely intact.

Indiana re-signed Justin Holiday (three years, $18 million) and JaKarr Sampson (one year, minimum). That temporarily put the Pacers over the luxury-tax line, and they obviously couldn’t stay there.

So, Indiana traded T.J. Leaf and a second-rounder to the Thunder for Jalen Lecque. Alize Johnson left for the Raptors.

Otherwise, the Pacers kept everyone from last season. Indiana even retained two-way players Brian Bowen II and Naz Mitrou-Long. Cassius Stanley, who looks like a typical No. 54 pick, is the highest-profile newcomer.

Barring a late move or injury, Indiana will become just the 17th team to return players who accounted for at least 98% of its minutes the season prior:

This wasn’t the bold offseason the Pacers wanted. They’ll instead rely on new coach Nate Bjorkgren for a jolt. But it’ll be hard to play the aggressive style he wants with two bigs in Domantas Sabonis and Turner.

Maybe Indiana will make a big trade (pun intended) during the season. Either way, Oladipo – who reaffirmed his commitment to the Pacers – is approaching unrestricted free agency next summer. Unlike anything this offseason, that inflection point will spur action.

Indiana’s continuity could be an advantage in this rushed season. But the Pacers are commonly picked seventh in the Eastern Conference. With the new play-in tournament, that no longer assures a playoff spot. Still, seventh has an advantage over eighth which has an advantage over ninth which has an advantage over 10th.

As usual – despite everyone getting antsy – Indiana remains on track to lose in the first round.

Offseason grade: C