A flurry of early activity brought some much-needed help for the bench, but a big hole remains in the Pacers’ starting lineup.
Not long after reports leaked that Lance Stephenson had rejected Indiana’s five-year, $44 million contract offer, the Pacers reportedly agreed to terms with free agent C.J. Miles on a four-year, $18 million deal.
They reportedly also agreed on a three-year deal with 6-10 Croatian Damjan Rudez, and also added 6-11 undrafted free agent center Shayne Whittington of Western Michigan.
Miles, Rudez and Whittington all bring reputations as strong shooters.The 6-6 Miles has shot .385 from the 3-point line the last two seasons. Since entering the league out of high school with Utah in 2005, he has averaged 8.9 points and 2.2 rebounds while shooting .420 overall and .350 from the arc. At 27, he has 206 career starts including 34 with the Cavaliers last season, in which he averaged 9.6 points and 41 percent shooting from the arc.
The 6-10, 200-pound Rudez has played both forward spots in Europe, establishing himself as one of the best long-range shooters on the continent.
ShamSports.com described him as an “unblockable jump-shooter” and a “good athlete,” but also said “he just stands there” when not playing well. “The only thing consistent about Rudez,” said the report, “is his lack of effort on defense and the glass.”
Rudez, who reportedly will earn $1.1 million in the first season of his deal, seems redundant to Chris Copeland, who couldn’t get off the bench last season. That would make this a questionable investment, unless there are more moves to come that could thrust Rudez into a larger role.
The 6-10, 237-pound Whittington’s star ascended at the Portsmouth Invitational when he averaged 19.2 points and made 10-of-22 threes. Given he was 8-of-46 from the arc his last two seasons at Western Michigan it seems possible his hot shooting in Portsmouth was an aberration but scouts seem convinced he has potential as a stretch big. The Pacers will have to wait awhile to find out, though; Whittington sustained a fractured fibula during a pre-draft workout and reportedly isn’t expected back on court until early 2015.
Stephenson’s status, and just what the Pacers would do with their starting shooting guard position should he sign elsewhere, remains the most pressing issue moving forward.
Though precise terms of Miles’ contract aren’t yet known, the average salary when combined with Rudez’s $1.1 million would appear to occupy most, if not all, of the $5.3 million available to the Pacers in the mid-level exception.
To acquire a proven starter, then, the most likely route remaining would be a trade. Marc Stein of ESPN.com has reported preliminary discussions of a potential deal for Phoenix point guard Goran Dragic, as well as the potential of a multi-team deal that could include Boston’s Rajon Rondo. Two other players team president Larry Bird has coveted in the past also are on the market: O.J. Mayo and Gerald Henderson.
Phoenix drafted a point guard (Tyler Ennis) and intends to re-sign restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe, which could render Dragic expendable despite averages of 20.3 points and 5.9 assists, not to mention .505 shooting overall and .408 from the arc, earning him the NBA Most Improved Player award. He is due $15 million over the next two seasons.
Rondo, out 96 games the last two seasons due to an ACL injury, will earn $12.9 million in the final year of his contract this season.
With the addition of Jabari Parker, Milwaukee is said to be shopping veteran O.J. Mayo, a player Bird twice tried to acquire from Memphis in 2011. A deal that would’ve brought Mayo to Indiana for Brandon Rush and Josh McRoberts appeared done in February 2011 but the Pacers failed to officially report it to the NBA before the 3 p.m. trading deadline. They tried again in December, with reports again surfacing that a deal was imminent, but again things fell through at the last minute.
Mayo has a checkered past but has been a productive player, starting 285 games in seven seasons and averaging 14.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists. He also has a career 3-point percentage of .380. He’s due $16 million over the next two seasons.
With the Hornets among the teams most interested in Stephenson, Henderson also has been shopped, according to various reports. The son of one of Bird’s former teammates in Boston, Henderson has averaged 14.8 points in 200 starts the last three seasons in Charlotte but is not a 3-point threat, though he shot a career-best .348 last season. He is due $12 million over the next two seasons.
The Pacers also have reportedly shown interest in free agents Xavier Henry (Lakers) and Rodney Stuckey (Pistons). Henry is coming off his best season, averaging 10.0 points, and would come at a modest price. The same isn’t true of Stuckey, who earned $8.5 million last season.