Indiana Pacers

Pacers offseason outlook: How will Indiana attack free agency after surprising season?

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Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (Getty Images)

Big issue 1: Of all the teams eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, the Pacers will go into the offseason with the brightest of outlooks. They won 48 games (well ahead of projections), took LeBron James and the Cavaliers to seven games in the first round, nearly came back to win Game 7 on the road, discovered a superstar in guard Victor Oladipo and are sitting on a group that played with cohesion and an acceptance of roles that helped them get the most out of the roster.

They've also assembled a payroll that is very friendly to the team accountants. That means GM Kevin Pritchard will be able to exert considerable influence over this offseason, and has the flexibility to add pieces to a bench that needs help - the reserves were solid against Cleveland, but it was a subpar bench during the regular season, with a net rating of minus-2.1.

There are improvements to be made, but Pritchard has a narrow line to walk. The Pacers can't be complacent with what they accomplished this season, but they certainly don't want to overspend and find themselves with a bloated payroll. The league is littered with teams that overspent after a good year and wound up with an overwrought cap situation (hello, Hornets!).

There's a chance that Pritchard could make a pitch for a young, star-caliber player, especially a restricted free agent like Orlando's Aaron Gordon, the Lakers' Julius Randle, Cleveland's Rodney Hood or Chicago's Zach LaVine. One option that would be a risk, but with a high payoff: Utah's Derrick Favors.

More likely, the Pacers will ink a solid role player or two, like Boston's Marcus Smart (also a restricted free agent) or unrestricted free agents like Luc Mbah a Moute, Will Barton, Avery Bradley or Wayne Ellington.

The Pacers figure to have the pick of the litter. They will have cap space and offer a chance to play for an up-and-coming group that nearly unseated the Cavs. No other team will be able to make that kind of pitch.

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Sure Not Now

Big issue 2: It was not a bad year for big man Myles Turner. It's just that, on the whole, he is in his third season and has not developed as quickly as he probably should have - on a per-36-minute basis, he has averaged 16.3, 16.6 and 16.2 points in his first three seasons, his rebounding has gone 8.7, 8.3 and 8.2 and overall, his PER has gone 15.5, 18.5 and 16.7.

He has become a better 3-point shooter, which is a big step for him. If this team is to take the next step toward becoming a regular East contender, much of the responsibility will fall to Turner's development, and if he can expand his game consistently to the 3-point line, Indiana's guards figure to benefit from the spacing.

Oladipo has already become a star-level player, but he wore down over the course of the season and needs help with the offensive load. That will be up to Turner. He has the ability to be a 16-18 points-per-game scorer in the NBA, but was stuck at 12.7 this season, and was held to eight points three times in the seven-game series against Cleveland.

If Turner can be a more assertive offensive player and continues to develop his perimeter game, he and Oladipo will form a solid foundation for a team with higher aspirations than simply getting to the playoffs.

Free-agent outlook: There are a host of targets the Pacers could pursue this summer, but first there are decisions to be made involving six players.

Both Thaddeus Young ($13.7 million) and Cory Joseph ($7.9 million) have player options, and Young is certain to exercise his as he looks for one last big payday in his next contract. The Pacers want to keep Young, who was valuable to the team on both sides of the ball, but only at a reasonable price. Joseph plans to exercise his option, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The other major free-agent decisions are held by the team. It's hard to imagine the team picking up the $10 million option on Al Jefferson's contract, but it also has $10 million options on Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanvoic for next season - Pritchard gets credit for the Oladipo trade, but the team-friendly deals for Collison and Bogdanovic don't get enough mention.

Both are likely to be back, unless the Pacers go tilting at windmills in a chase for bigger-name free agents.

The young folks: Turner is only 21, but is already the longest-tenured Pacer on the roster. He and fellow 21-year-old Sabonis helped give the Pacers some youthful exuberance, and both players should be expected to develop into top-line rotation players relatively soon.

Beyond those two, center Ike Anigbogu and forward T.J. Leaf are the Pacers' big hopes for internal development. Leaf did not play much this season, but in 53 games, he made 18 of the 42 3-pointers he attempts, good for 42.9 percent. He's already got an established reputation as a stretch-4, and he could yet prove worthy of filling that role.

As for Anigbogu, he's still a year or two away from contributing. Even in the G-League, he averaged 8.7 points and 6.4 rebounds, mediocre stats at best.

Wait till next year: The Pacers sprouted up into a solid East team seemingly overnight, and history suggests that there will be some pullback next season. Pritchard's challenge this summer is to sidestep that history.

Despite Turner's injuries, the starting five played in 90 percent of the team's games, and the Pacers were 25-14 when all five were starting (23-20 when even just one starter was missing). There's some luck involved when a team has that level of health, which is hard to repeat year-over-year.

Still, the Pacers will fit into the second tier of Eastern Conference teams next year, behind Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto, and Cleveland if LeBron James re-signs. If they improve their depth, get a breakthrough from Turner and stay reasonably healthy, the Pacers should win 46-50 games and have a shot at a home-court slot in the postseason.

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