Roy Hibbert ’14-’15 salary: $14.9 million
Paul George (projected) ’14-’15 salary: $14.5 million
George Hill ’14-’15 salary: $8 million
Lance Stephenson (projected) ’14-’15 salary: $8 million
Between the two big contracts they’ve already handed out to Hibbert and Hill and the two more big ones George and Stephenson are going to get, the Pacers are already committed to around $47 million for the 2014-15 season. But wait, it gets worse. Ian Mahinmi and Gerald Green are also locked up for another combined $7.5 million. That brings the total into the $54-55 million range, and that’s assuming Stephenson doesn’t make another leap next year and command eight figures.
The luxury tax is approximately $70 million. When you combine the money they’ll already have committed for the ’14-’15 season and the extra bit they’re going to have to shell out for draft picks, bench guys and cap holds, the Pacers are going to be pushing the mid 60’s without another big contract.
You know who needs a big contract? David West. Everyone’s assuming that West going back to Indiana is a slam dunk. It isn’t. This is going to be West’s last major payday, and he’s going to want eight figures. That would put Indiana over the luxury tax, which under the new punitive rules of the CBA would completely cripple their long-term flexibility.
The Pacers are a small market team that struggles to profit as is; they aren’t paying the tax. Unless they decide they’re willing to do it, they pretty much have to decide between extending West or Stephenson. No team in their right mind is choosing West, a 32-year-old big man only two years removed from a torn ACL, over Stephenson, a 22-year-old thoroughbred who can defend either guard spot and play in any style because of his absurd athleticism.
And don’t just assume they’ll re-sign West, make one last run, and then trade him later. Indiana still has Danny Granger on the books for next year, not to mention a host of other non-necessities (Psycho T!).
David West is a free agent, and this isn’t one of those “Tim Duncan is technically a free agent but not really” type of things. He’s going to get big offers from other teams, and I don’t know if Indiana is going to be able to match them.
The rest of the league just saw West put up nearly 16 and 8 in the playoffs and more importantly, get into Miami’s head. He’s the rare power forward who can both bruise down low and step back and hit a mid-range jumper. His defense is at least above average, even without Roy Hibbert or Tyson Chandler helping him, and he’s among the best teammates in basketball. This guy is a real asset, and teams are going to want him.
The question is who, and honestly, it’s going to come down to where the big guns want to go. Plenty of people in the league think that Chris Paul is going to ask West to join him wherever he goes. From a cap perspective, only Atlanta can make that happen, but if Houston can dump Omer Asik or Dallas can unload Shawn Marion, either of those two teams become more realistic possibilities.
Meanwhile, if Houston misses out on Howard and Paul, West might become their best option if they’re not sold on any of the other second-tier guys. He could slide into the power forward spot and create the same defensive problems with Asik that he did with Roy Hibbert. The real question here would be if Houston, who is philosophically opposed to mid-range jumpers (as are all stat-heavy teams), could really accept signing a big man for big money who spends so much time roaming around the 12-18 foot range.
The one team nobody mentions that actually makes sense is Philly. If they let Andrew Bynum go (a distinct possibility), they’d pretty much be obligated to spend that money elsewhere since they’re too good to tank. West would fill in the power forward slot, allowing Thaddeus Young to move back to the bench where he belongs (which is by no means a slight; he’s so versatile that he’d be best used there anyway). He’d also give Spencer Hawes more freedom to shoot on the perimeter if he’s banging down low, and most importantly, he’d give the team the real veteran leader they’ve lacked since... wow... I can’t exactly say Iverson... Eric Snow? I have no freaking clue. Point is, David West immediately fixes that.
What this really comes down to is Indiana’s willingness to spend money. I have no idea if they’d actually dip into the luxury tax, but at the very least I’m dubious. I’ll give them the slight edge here for now, but that’s really only out of a lack for other significant suitors. The moment that changes, so does my prediction.
Prediction: Indiana Pacers, three years, $30 million
By: Sam Quinn