Rumors everywhere, reports of signings and trades flying, it’s difficult to sort through what’s real, what’s imagined and what it all means.
This much, we know:
>> The Pacers want David West back and he wants to return, but no deal can be officially consummated until July 10;
>> Desperately needing help for the second unit, Larry Bird and Co. have been very active, reportedly in pursuit of free agents C.J. Watson, Tony Allen, Chase Budinger and/or Chris Copeland;
>> Because they are over the salary cap (projected at $58.5 million for 2013-14), they have three primary options for acquiring players: trades, the mid-level exception ($5.15 million) and the bi-annual exception ($2.016 million).
Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com broke the news Monday afternoon regarding Watson “closing in on an agreement” with the Pacers, not long after team President Larry Bird identified backup point guard as one of the team’s primary targets in free agency.
“We feel we need a backup point guard,” Bird said. “We’re looking at some wing players, a backup four. We have a certain amount of money we can spend, we have a budget and we will not go into the tax for any reason so whatever fits in there is what we’re going to do. Obviously David’s our number one guy so we’ll try to get him done but then hopefully everything else will fall in place.
“We have to do whatever we can to have a better bench. Our starters are pretty good players but for us to get where we want to go on a consistent basis, we have got to have players that come off our bench not lose leads like they did last year. If anything, they’ve got to hold their own or build the lead. So that’s our priority right now.”
Watson, 29, would give the Pacers a strong second-unit presence at the point. A six-year veteran, he averaged 19.0 minutes, 6.8 points and 2.0 assists in 80 games with the Nets last season. He likely would command the bi-annual exception ($2.016 million) and reportedly would sign a two-year deal on July 10, when free agent moves can become official.
Watson seemed to confirm the mutual interest with this Tweet Monday afternoon: “Keep up with the pace!!!!”
Bird confirmed the team has made a qualifying offer (roughly $4.1 million) on Tyler Hansbrough, which makes him a restricted free agent. The Pacers thus have the ability to match any offer, or they could trade Hansbrough or withdraw the qualifying offer. They did not make offers to Jeff Pendergraph or Ben Hansbrough, so both became unrestricted free agents.
While the Pacers can hope for a complete return by Danny Granger, who would either give the bench a much-needed scorer or push Stephenson into the role, that alone would not solve the problem.
The Pacers’ bench ranked 29th in scoring (24.1), 30th in shooting (.393) and 26th in 3-point shooting (.329) in 2012-13.
“The moves will be to strengthen the bench,” said team President Larry Bird. “Our starters are pretty well set, especially if we can get Danny back. There’s still some uncertainty there. If he comes back, automatically our bench gets better. We’ve just got to get the other guys to play better or bring in some guys we think’s going to help us.
“For us to talk about beating the great teams in this league, you’ve got to have a stronger bench. Our bench didn’t produce last year the way we needed them to produce and we definitely have got to fix that one area.”
One of the best shooters on the market, Atlanta free agent Kyle Korver, apparently is headed to the Nets. Another, Milwaukee free agent J.J. Redick, is the target of a number of potential sign-and-trade deals. The Pacers pursued a deal for Redick prior to the NBA trade deadline in February but the cost was prohibitive.
Budinger missed most of the 2012-13 season after undergoing surgery to repair torn knee cartilage, averaging 9.4 points and 3.1 rebounds in 23 games for Minnesota. He has career averages of 9.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and .358 shooting from the 3-point line, so his offensive versatility and long-range threat would fit well with the Pacers’ needs. He also is being pursued by the Timberwolves, Bucks, Pelicans, Jazz and Grizzlies.
Copeland is a restricted free agent but the cap-strapped Knicks may not be in position to match even a relatively modest offer. He definitely is a shooter (.421 from the 3-point line last season), who also averaged 8.7 points and 2.1 rebounds as an elderly rookie (29).
Allen, on the other hand, is one of the worst 3-point shooters in the league (.125 last season, .269 career) but one of the best perimeter defenders. He averaged 8.9 points and 4.6 rebounds last season as a full-time starter in Memphis. Other teams reportedly pursuing Allen are Milwaukee and New York.
“One of our issues here, we’re always going to be fighting the small market and it’s tough. It’s very tough,” Bird said. “… We’ve got to be very selective in the guys we draft, very selective in the guys we bring in here through free agency. We have to have a plan of what we’re going to do moving forward with how we’re going to make our bench better. We don’t have $20 million to spend but we have to do our best to strengthen our bench.”