Pacers team president Larry Bird made it clear back in April that change was coming. Small ball, with star wing Paul George logging minutes at power forward, was discussed openly and honestly as a preferred option. Pace of play became a key talking point for a team that once prided itself on grinding the game to a halt. Behemoth center Roy Hibbert was told that his role in this revised approach would be less substantial. Next season’s Pacers would be a very different team even if much of the roster remained the same, as Bird and head coach Frank Vogel envisioned a more modern product from the talent available.
As of the first week of NBA free agency, Indiana has unquestionably moved in that direction. Gone are Hibbert and David West, champions of Indiana’s smashmouth identity. In are Monta Ellis and the returning Rodney Stuckey, the latter on a three-year, $21 million deal, per Real GM, to expand on his role with the Pacers from last season.
That Indiana’s two most significant offseason expenditures to date are perimeter creators speaks volumes of where this franchise intends to go. Once Hibbert is officially traded to the Lakers, Ian Mahinmi, Lavoy Allen, Damjan Rudez, and 19-year-old rookie Myles Turner will comprise Indiana’s entire rotation of bigs. Stuckey, meanwhile, is an eight-figure addition to a backcourt that already includes Ellis, George Hill, and C.J. Miles with potential minutes in play for George and Solomon Hill. The roster has been oriented to the perimeter in a hurry—a surprising development given that both West and Hibbert, by way of lucrative player options, once seemed likely to be under contract with Indiana for the coming season.
The Pacers instead had room to spare. Stuckey and Ellis will make around $17 million combined next season based on their new deals. Provided that Hibbert’s trade consummates as expected without returning any salary to the Pacers, that should leave Bird with better than $10 million (depending on contract specifics) in cap space to address the team’s remaining needs in the frontcourt. Finding a suitable one is easier said than done; with the free agent ranks dwindling quickly, players like Josh Smith, Darrell Arthur, and two-year Pacer Luis Scola might top the list of reasonably attainable bigs.
Regardless of how Indiana goes about completing its frontcourt, Stuckey’s new deal makes for a perfectly reasonable expenditure. The Pacers obviously don’t have as much of a need for Stuckey’s services with George returned from injury and Ellis in the fold. That they’re familiar with his pliable game, however, strengthens his appeal as a somewhat known quantity. His deal is modest. His play for the Pacers last season warranted a possible return with a raise. There might not be anything especially thrilling about returning a core contributor from a 38-win team, but Stuckey can be a nice piece and doesn’t in any way detract from the Pacers’ broader plans.