Despite having some relative success over the years, the Indiana Pacers are still not a prime destination for free agents.
Sure, they managed to lure some gems in the past in David West, Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collision, while their most recent pickup of Malcolm Brogdon is also paying dividends.
Their struggles to land superstars in free agency may be a factor in the Pacers’ history of overpaying players who weren’t exactly worth the money. Other times, Indy also took on veterans who already had their best years behind them.
Let’s have a look at the Pacers’ five worst signings in their history.
5. Rodney Stuckey
Re-signed to 3-year, $21 million contract (2015)
To be fair, Stuckey was a steal for the Pacers when they initially got him for a one-year, $1.2 million deal in 2014. He balled out for Indiana that season, averaging 12.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 71 games.
The Pacers were impressed with his progress, particularly with his newfound stroke from downtown and his 39.0 percent success rate from out there. They rewarded his efforts with a generous extension, but the 6-foot-5 guard quickly regressed. Stuckey was supposed to give their bench a huge lift but failed to provide much impact in the two ensuing seasons.
His numbers dropped to just 8.9 points per game in 2015-16, followed by a 7.2 scoring average the following season. After straining his left patellar tendon in 2017, Indiana decided to waive Stuckey to free up a roster spot.
4. Al Jefferson
3-year, $30 million contract (2016)
Big Al is another former star who joined the Pacers a little too late. It’s apparent that Father Time had slowly been creeping up on Jefferson when Indy pursued him in the summer of 2016. The Pacers, however, hoped they could have gotten the same impact from him that David West provided the team a few seasons back.
It didn’t help that the league was transitioning to a more pace-and-space type of game around that time, rendering Jefferson’s back-to-the-basket style obsolete. Despite a reduced role with the Pacers, the 6-foot-10 big man still provided the team a boost off the bench with averages of 8.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in 2016-17. Jefferson’s body, however, could not hold up the following season and he was only limited to just 36 appearances.
Jefferson was waived by the team in 2018 and last played for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in China’s CBA and Ice Cube’s BIG3.
3. Tyreke Evans
1-year, $12,300,000 contract (2018)
Reke did have his moments in Indianapolis, particularly come playoff time in 2019. After a career resurgence in Memphis the prior season, he joined the Pacers on a generous one-year agreement — perhaps in a bid to boost his stock for a long-term deal afterward. He struggled out of the gate in the season, dropping from a scoring average of 19.4 points per game in Memphis to just 10.2 in Indiana.
The 6-foot-6 guard played much better come the postseason, tallying 15.3 points per game in the first round, albeit while getting swept by the Boston Celtics. The Pacers were likely thinking about bringing him back had it not been for his off-court issues. On May 17, 2019, the league banned the former Rookie of The Year winner for violating the terms of its Anti-Drug Program.
The 30-year-old is a repeat offender, hence the harsh punishment. Evans, however, can still apply for reinstatement in 2021.
2. Austin Croshere
Re-signed to 7-year, $51 million contract (2000)
Like Stuckey, Croshere was another former Pacers player whose play took a dive once the team gave him the big bucks. The 6-foot-10 stretch 4 rose to prominence during Indy’s first and only NBA Finals trip in 2000. Croshere hit big shots for the team in the playoffs, drilling 40.5 percent of his 3-pointers. He was also a bright spot in their Finals loss to the Lakers, pouring in 15.2 points and 6.0 rebounds in six games.
Croshere was expected to be a fundamental part of the team’s core moving forward, but his poor play proved otherwise. He sustained almost the same scoring average (10.1 PPG) upon signing the massive contract extension in 2000-01. That was the last time he ever averaged double figures in scoring.
Croshere was a decent role player for Indy throughout his nine-year stay, but no doubt the Pacers didn’t get their money’s worth on that investment.
1. Monta Ellis
4-year, $44 million contract (2015)
Ellis is indeed one of the best players to never make an All-Star team. He was a ruthless scorer during his years with the Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, and he averaged 18.9 points in his final year with the Dallas Mavericks before signing with Indiana.
Given the current make of the Pacers’ roster at the time, it was clear they had a surplus of guards who needed the ball in their hands to be effective. Franchise star Paul George just returned from his devastating injury, while the team also had ball-dominant guards in George Hill, Rodney Stuckey, and Jeff Teague.
Considering his daredevil play style, Ellis also had some mileage on his body and was hampered by a knee injury for most of the 2015-16 season. His numbers dropped to just 13.8 points, 4.7 assists and 1.9 steals per game on 42.7 percent shooting from the field.
The 6-foot-3 combo guard would put up his lowest scoring average since his rookie year while in a Pacers uniform. He notched just 8.5 points, 3.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game the following year, which proved to be his last season in the league. The Pacers are still honoring his contract until 2021-22 after waiving him in 2017 and stretching his deal.