If the Indiana Pacers add a key free agent or two, they can make huge strides in the 2019-20 NBA season.
Granted, this squad could’ve been NBA title contenders had leading scorer Victor Oladipo been around. Seven Pacers’ contracts expired at the end of the season. These include Thaddeus Young, Tyreke Evans, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Kyle O’Quinn, and Wesley Matthews.
Expect Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard to make changes. The question remains: can he lure a big-name free agent to Indy? The last high-caliber free agent the Pacers signed was power forward David West in 2011.
If Indiana plans to nab their next game changer via free agency, it must consider three players.
We will base our criteria simply on how well each player fits the Pacers’ needs and long-term championship aspirations.
3. Khris Middleton
Status: player option
First off, one of the Indiana Pacers’ first priorities in the offseason is re-signing unrestricted free agent small forward Bojan Bogdanovic.
Since Oladipo’s season-ending knee injury in late January, Bogey became Indy’s go-to player. The latter enjoyed his finest season as a pro, averaging 18.0 points per game.
We love the thought of Bogdanovic re-signing with the Blue and Gold. However, let’s be honest: he can sign with another team.
Khris Middleton with a couple of early threes for the Bucks pic.twitter.com/pgmdBxqpJY
— Bucks Film Room (@BucksFilmRoom) April 28, 2019
Enter Khris Middleton. Sure, there’s also a good chance he will stay with the Milwaukee Bucks. However, if he exercises his player option, he will become an attractive target for Pritchard and Co.
Middleton is a smooth operator with a sweet stroke from the perimeter. When Oladipo returns next season, Middleton will make opposing defenses pay for sagging off on him.
If the Pacers lose Bogdanovic to free agency, Middleton should offset that loss nicely.
2. Julius Randle
Status: player option
Twenty-four-year-old Julius Randle has gotten better in each of his five NBA seasons. Randle averaged a career-best 21.4 points in the 2018-19 NBA season.
Randle is an attractive Plan B should another Pacers unrestricted free agent, Thad Young, sign elsewhere.
Randle and Young’s games are eerily similar. They’re both lefties who can score from the post, medium range, and three-point distance. They’re also good defenders.
"One of just eight players to put up a 21/8/3 stat-line this season, Randle would have probably received All-Star consideration for his contributions if he played in the weaker of the two conferences." https://t.co/UcRhuOy2Q4
— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) April 21, 2019
However, Randle is the better scorer (he averaged 21.4 points last season compared to Young’s 12.6). He also has the edge in terms of athleticism and youth (he’s six years younger than Young).
If Randle exercises his player option and Young bolts Indy, the Blue and Gold should zero in on the former.
His impressive all-around game bodes well for the Pacers’ championship aspirations in 2019-20 and beyond.
1. Kemba Walker
Status: unrestricted free agent
The addition of Kemba Walker makes the Indiana Pacers a better team. If the Pacers maintain most of their key players and add him, they’re bona fide title contenders.
Indiana doesn’t have a storied history of high-scoring point guards. Vern Fleming, Micheal Williams (spelled “Micheal”), Haywoode Workman, Travis Best, Mark Jackson, and Jamaal Tinsley certainly don’t belong in that category. Making a paradigm shift with Walker in 2019-20 should change things for the better.
Hornets, Knicks, Mavs, Lakers.. Pacers? Kemba/Oladipo would be a deadly backcourt combination https://t.co/HgJR8Op8DK
— Hunter Hendley (@hunterjh03) April 24, 2019
To make room for Walker, the Pacers must say goodbye to Darren Collison and Cory Joseph. An Indiana backcourt of Walker and Oladipo should make it one of the most dynamic in the league.
If opposing defenses double team Oladipo, he can swing the ball to Walker, who will do the rest. It also makes sense to make Aaron Holiday the main backup at the 1 spot. Holiday has tremendous upside. For his part, Joseph was far too inconsistent last season.
It isn’t hard to imagine the duo of Walker and Oladipo (should he remain healthy) carrying the load for the Indiana Pacers.
If Pritchard surrounds them with a stellar supporting cast, expect Indiana to win its first NBA title sooner than later.