One of the saddest realities in life is that circumstances always change eventually. More often than not these changes also take place when people least expect it to happen. Relationships are formed and sometimes break apart. Career paths take various turns and evolve through time depending on demand and innovation in particular industries. The same sentiment is especially true when it comes to professional sports and the inevitable disbanding of popular teams. One of the NBA's most surprising teams from last season and into this year has been the Indiana Pacers.
After exceeding expectations with 48 wins during the 2017-2018 season, the team was projected to produce even better results in the next campaign with a majority of the team back. The Pacers were led by Victor Oladipo, a first time All-Star with a vast improvement on both ends of the floor. Oladipo was surrounded by complimentary pieces including Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Thad Young. Each of these players with their individual effort, skill set, and willingness to play team basketball, made Indiana's chemistry an envy to the rest of the NBA. Indiana also had valuable young front court assets to utilize in Domas Sabonis and Myles Turner. Sabonis used as a gritty forward with an NBA lineage and Myles Turner as a rim protector with offensive range. Both of these players appear to have eventual All-Star potential if they stay healthy in future seasons with the Pacers.
While Indiana has been able to solidify themselves as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season, it's extremely likely this team will break apart at the conclusion of the season. The first indication this separation could happen was when Victor Oladipo fell victim to a season ending knee injury. Pacers fans are well aware of the kind of havoc an injury can cause to the overall complexion of a team.
After Paul George broke his leg in an Olympic team scrimmage before the start of the 2014-2015 season, George's ability to bounce back to All-Star form and Indiana's ability to compete as a team was in severe doubt. George ultimately told the Pacers he wanted out after the 2016-2017 season, forcing Indiana to trade the disgruntled star, instead of opting to lose him in free agency for nothing.
But with a career altering injury and a loss of interest from a star player, surrounding pieces also had to change for ensuing seasons. David West made the decision to chase rings with the Spurs and Warriors. Roy Hibbert was traded to the Lakers after changes instituted by Larry Bird to play a more uptempo style of basketball.
As far as this year's roster, the Pacers have a number of key pieces from the last two years playing on expiring deals. Potential free agents this off-season include starters Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Thad Young. The Pacers are also at risk of losing key reserves Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans. In fact, only six players are under contract for the Pacers next season. So with the team facing a remarkably similar situation yet again, some difficult decisions have to be made. Based on how things typically work in the NBA, change is bound to happen after the conclusion of this season for the Pacers.
The Pacers can take a few different paths with their roster for next season. Assuming Victor Oladipo returns to All-Star form, they actually could leave everything the same by bringing most of this group back. But with how well these complimentary pieces have played in Oladipo's absence, their price tags have increased for future negotiations. Out of the potential free agents for the Pacers this off-season, Darren Collison is the most likely to go.
Collison at his size is a bit of an aging asset at 31 years old. The Pacers should be able to replace Collison with a much younger and quicker version of him in Aaron Holiday, who appears eager to contribute in limited play this season. There will be growing pains in handling greater responsibilities, but in time, Holiday will hopefully be a dependable option at the point guard spot.
Tyreke Evans is also likely gone with his injury prone past and personal ambitions to earn an even larger salary with another team. The same argument could be made for Bogdanovic, Joseph, and Young who are approaching their final years of substantial financial viability. While keeping the status quo provides comfortable stability for Indiana's roster, it has a more limited upside. So the Pacers may be better off looking at different talent for next year since the front office already knows what they can expect in a season from this present group.
A bigger set of issues the Pacers need to figure out is how they want to construct their team in the coming years. If Victor Oladipo comes back and isn't the same, the Pacers have to weigh the option of trading Oladipo for a number of less expensive assets. Oladipo has yet to prove he is a superstar level talent with consistent All-Star level production year to year. The Pacers also have to carefully watch the kind of money they spend as a small market team knowing Myles Turner will start earning on his $72 million extension signed earlier this year. It's a bit of a risky investment in Turner, who has shown flashes of All-Star potential, but not on a consistent enough basis.
The Pacers must also confront the challenge of coughing up the kind of cash it will take to extend Domas Sabonis with the double-double performances he produces on most nights. Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers front office kept this group together, choosing to not move these expiring assets at the trade deadline.
The Pacers also made the move to add sharpshooter Wesley Matthews at the deadline in an attempt to compensate for the production lost from Oladipo's injury. Matthews is an ideal fit for the Pacers having been with both Pritchard and head coach Nate McMillan during their time in Portland.
This set of decisions speak to the importance Indiana places on stability and their emphasis on wanting to find the right fit when it comes to filling out the roster. But it leaves a lot of questions including who will leave, who will stay and at what price can they keep this group together for future seasons. So fans owe themselves the chance to watch this team play together in the waning days of the 2018-2019 season. Because major changes could and ultimately will be coming for the Pacers in the near future.
Jimmy Kennedy, who believes the Pacers will look a lot different next year, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org