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With NBA Free Agency Nearing Its End, Indiana Pacers Can Turn Focus To Contract Extensions

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 29, 2021

NBA free agency is nearly over as most teams have filled their roster spots for the 2021-22 season. Outside of a few training camp openings, organizations are mostly making forward-thinking moves that will have an impact during future seasons.

The Indiana Pacers have one camp spot open as of now, but beyond that, much of their remaining transactions this offseason — moves such as rookie options, salary clearing trades, and contract extensions for key veterans — will be primarily focused on the next iteration of the Pacers.

Contract extensions are the most important consideration for the Pacers throughout the rest of the fall. Despite presently having a surplus amount of depth, the blue and gold have multiple players under contract who are eligible for a longer deal, and many of them are both talented and fit well in Indiana long term. The Pacers front office would be smart to pursue contract extensions for those players, especially since all of the extension-eligible players will see their contract expire within the next two seasons.

Veteran extensions have various limitations, both in terms of total dollars and contract length, that can make them difficult to negotiate. A few players, such as Josh Richardson, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Smart have signed longer deals with their current teams this month, but adding time and money to deals (outside of max extensions and rookie extensions) is challenging and requires a near-ideal situation.

The Pacers have have one or two such players, out of six eligible, that may be in the perfect circumstance to get a contract extension in Indiana. Running through the half dozen veterans on the Pacers who are permitted to have years added to their contract, and the reasons why they may or may not want to do that, will make the front office’s strategy more clear for the blue and gold the rest of the offseason.

There are some important rules to note regarding veterans extensions. Players are able to begin negotiating a veteran extension two calendar years after signing their current contract (if said player’s ongoing deal totals three or four seasons in length) or three years (if said player’s ongoing deal totals five or six seasons in length). Extensions add years to existing contracts, but the total length of an extended contract cannot exceed five seasons, including the active seasons remaining on the deal.

In terms of money, the first year of a veteran extension can start at up to a maximum of 120% of a player’s prior salary or 120% of the league average salary, whichever is greater, and can go as low as the minimum salary. Raises are limited to eight percent of the salary in the first year of the extension. If a contract contains bonuses and is extended, then the same bonuses are present in the added seasons.

Additionally, if more than one season remains on a contract, then an extension cannot be signed once the season begins. That is relevant for a few Pacers players who are extension eligible this summer.

Malcolm Brogdon (Maximum extension: Three years, ~$88 million)

Brogdon has two more seasons remaining on his current deal, so the Pacers have until October 18th to agree to an extension with their starting point guard. Any extension Brogdon agrees to would not kick in until the 2023-24 season.

The University of Virginia product has been one of Indiana’s best players across the past two seasons — a timeframe in which he has averaged 18.9 points and 6.5 assists per game. At his best, the five-year veteran can play near an All-Star level.

Having such a high peak is why the Pacers would consider giving Brogdon an extension. There are a handful of large hurdles, though. One is that the talented guard will turn 29 in December and would be nearly 31 by the time any extension kicks in, meaning an age-caused decline in performance could coincide with any extension kicking in. The other trouble with extending Brogdon’s current contract is that his peaks are not as frequent as the Pacers would like — he goes through high and low stretches often over the course of each season and has dealt with numerous injuries in all of his last four campaigns. It’s hard to nail down exactly how much production you are paying for with two-year Pacer.

Determining what kind of extension would make sense for Brogdon is difficult. A three-year extension worth nearly $30 million per season, his maximum extension, is certainly too much money to commit to Brogdon. But he is talented, and adding extra years on his deal does make sense for the Pacers. Lining up his contract length with that of two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis, who has three seasons left on his deal, could be of benefit for the blue and gold — a team that is trying to win more games after hiring Rick Carlisle to be the team’s head coach.

“I thought we got the best possible coach for us going into next season,” Brogdon said of the Pacers hiring Carlisle on The Woj Pod.

If Brogdon has a desire to remain in Indiana longer than the next two seasons, then perhaps an agreement could pop up here. A one-year extension, similar to the one signed by Josh Richardson in Boston, could make sense for both parties as it would allow Brogdon to hit free agency again as a 31-year old (where he could pursue one final lucrative contract in his career) while lining up his contract length with Sabonis.

But of course, both sides would have to agree to a deal. And the Pacers may not want to concede any future flexibility with their roster; they are at a crossroads after their dramatic 34-38 season just concluded. A short Brogdon extension could make sense, especially if he steps into a larger leadership role this coming season, but there are also reasons why both sides may not want to pursue an extension at this time.

Caris LeVert (Maximum extension: Three years, ~$73 million)

Of all the extension-eligible Pacers, LeVert is the one who joined Indiana most recently. Like Brogdon, he has two more seasons remaining on his contract, so there is an October 18th deadline for an extension to be signed — one that would start in the 2023-24 season.

LeVert played well for the blue and gold last season, averaging 20.7 points and 4.9 assists per game. He showed off his refined scoring abilities after being traded to Indiana in January, and he fit in extremely well with his new team.

The University of Michigan product just recently turned 27 years old and still has a few seasons remaining on his current deal. Thanks to his ability to handle the ball and create useful shot attempts for himself and others, he should be in high demand as a free agent when the summer of 2023 rolls around.

That is what makes an extension difficult. Giving LeVert three extra seasons on his contract at nearly $25 million per year is approximately his market value right now, but his worth could go up in the coming seasons, so there is no need for LeVert to lock in to a deal prematurely. After his incredible close to the season — LeVert averaged 26 points per game in the Pacers final 10 regular season games — Indiana would surely like to give their starting shooting guard a longer contract. It just may not be feasible given the constraints on what the Pacers can offer.

Still, LeVert has enjoyed his time in the Circle City and has a chance to cement himself as the teams lead baller handler next season, which could be an appealing role for him — especially with a new head coach. “I can’t wait to play for him. I think it’s going to be super fun, I think it’s going to be beneficial for both sides. I can’t wait for it,” LeVert said of playing for Rick Carlisle on The Old Man and The Three podcast.

If LeVert wants to be in Indiana long-term, he could accept an extension now, but most of the factors at play for him suggest he won’t be signing a longer term deal this fall. Next season would be a more fitting time for a LeVert extension with the blue and gold.

Myles Turner (Maximum extension: Three years, ~$70 million plus bonuses)

Turner has two seasons left on the rookie extension he inked back in 2018, meaning he is only eligible for a veteran extension until the season starts. It would kick in during the 2023-24 season.

Turner is an interesting player to think about when it comes to contract extensions. On one hand, he is one of the best defensive players in basketball, and his timing and ability to read the game on that end of the floor can make any team better. On the other hand, the Pacers have a two-time All-Star on the roster that plays the same position in Sabonis.

Turner’s offensive usage dropped once Sabonis moved into the starting five in 2019-20, and it has remained lower in the two seasons since. While his defense can be game changing, he has turned into a role player offensively, and the Pacers tend to do better with just one of him or Sabonis on the court. Carlisle will be the third coach that tries to maximize an Indiana starting five that features both centers.

“I’m excited just to see what he implements and incorporates,” Turner said of Carlisle during an NBATV broadcast of a Pacers summer league game. Turner worked out with Carlisle a few times this offseason.

If Carlisle can make the two-big lineups work, then a contract extension could be in the cards for Turner next offseason. The money the Pacers are able to offer should be enough — centers have seen their value around the league fall in recent seasons, outside of stars.

But Indiana won’t be able to see their tall duo on the court together until after the deadline for Turner to sign an extension, so it is unlikely that the two parties agree to a longer deal this offseason. Unless the 25-year old is willing to take a discount during his prime years, which also feels extremely unlikely, the Pacers can turn their attention to other extensions.

T.J. Warren (Maximum extension: Four years, ~$68 million plus bonuses)

Warren has just one year left on his current deal, meaning he could extend his contract beyond 2021-22 any time during the upcoming season.

Injuries have been unkind to Warren recently. He hasn’t played in an NBA game during the calendar year 2021, and he has played a total of 14 games since March of 2020. Foot issues have kept him sidelined for a majority of the last year and a half.

On the flip side, in those 14 games, Warren was unbelievable. He averaged over 30 points per game in the NBA bubble last August, and he limped his way to 15.5 points per game last December. When healthy, Warren is one of the Pacers best players.

That’s what makes an extension tricky to predict. Warren may want to lock in a long-term deal now thanks to his health concerns (he has missed 16+ games in all but one season of his career), but if he plays well and is healthy this season then he could set himself up to earn much more than his maximum extension during 2022 free agency.

The Pacers could re-sign him at that time, and they will likely have interest. Warren indicated that he is a fan of his current franchise at the end of the 2020-21 season.

“I love it here, I want to be here for a long time,” Warren said of Indiana in May.

But if the seven-year veteran has a solid campaign in 2021-22, he could vault himself up into the top of the 2022 free agent class. And if he does that, he could earn a much larger deal per season than just the $17 million per year average he would get on his largest possible extension.

Because Warren has a chance to make much more money by betting on himself, it is unlikely that he agrees to any contract extension this offseason. But the Pacers could still try to re-sign him next summer if need be. Much of Warren’s financial situation will depend on his play, and his health, in 2021-22.

Jeremy Lamb (Maximum extension: Four years, ~$56 million)

Like Warren, Lamb’s contract will expire after the upcoming campaign, meaning he can agree to a longer deal at any time during the season. It would go into effect during the 2022-23 season.

That said, any extension for Lamb feels incredibly unlikely.

He played well at times during his first season in Indiana, but a knee injury caused the 29-year old to miss 11 months of action, and he was significantly less impactful after returning from his injury. His defense, in particular, was much worse last season than it was during his first year in Indiana.

Lamb could get healthier and be a useful piece for the blue and gold next season, but after drafting Chris Duarte this offseason and picking up Edmond Sumner’s team option, the Pacers have a glut of of shooting guards on the roster behind LeVert. Finding minutes for Lamb could be challenging — even if he is healthy.

As a result, Indiana has been trying to move on from Lamb in a trade, according to J Michael of the Indianapolis Star. That makes sense — he makes over $10 million but could be out of his team’s rotation next year.

Because he is lower on the Pacers depth chart and likely doesn’t have a future with the franchise, a Lamb extension won’t happen. Barring a miraculous run of play to start this season, the Indiana front office won’t have to think about a veteran extension here.

Edmond Sumner (Maximum extension: Four years, ~$54 million)

The Pacers picked up a team option on Sumner’s contract for the 2021-22 season, meaning he will be playing for the team next season on an expiring deal. He could sign an extension during the season that would kick in next year.

Because his salary is below league average, Sumner’s maximum dollar amount in an extension isn’t possible to estimate right now. It could fluctuate by a few hundred thousand dollars. That said, he isn’t worth more than $10 million per season, so Indiana won’t have to worry about going up to the maximum extension value with Sumner.

The Xavier product has improved in each of his four seasons in the NBA, and he became an important rotation player for the Pacers last season. But between Duarte being drafted and Lamb returning from injury, there will be fewer minutes to go around for Sumner next season.

The six-foot-four-inch guard is athletic and talented, and he has proved himself to be worthy of a bigger role often throughout his career. However, it will be hard for Carlisle to find him playing time this season, which makes an extension tricky to navigate.

If Sumner is looking for a larger role in his future, he may want to switch teams next summer. But if he is looking for long term security on a roster he is familiar with, perhaps he would be receptive to another deal in Indiana.

“I want to be a Pacer. I love the Pacers, they took a chance on me. I’m a loyal guy,” Sumner said in May.

Warren and Lamb’s contracts expire after this season, so if they both depart in free agency then there could be a role for Sumner on the wing two seasons from now. That could be a situation in which he is a perfect fit for the Pacers, but it is impossible for either side to predict that before this season is over.

Finding cheap yet useful depth is a never-ending goal for NBA teams, so grabbing Sumner on a reasonable deal of any length — somewhere in the $6-8 million range — seems like good business for the Pacers. But if they don’t see him ever being in the rotation, or if the 25-year old is more interested in a defined role, then an agreement could be difficult. If both sides are motivated, though, a deal can always be made.

Brogdon and Sumner seem like the two players with the highest chance of receiving a contract extension from the Pacers this offseason. But anything is possible, and without knowing the specific goals of each player and the team, it isn’t clear how these negotiations could go. It isn’t public how aggressively Indiana is pursuing extensions with any of these players — they are over the salary cap in future seasons already — but as a small market team with numerous talented players, the Pacers would be smart to try to retain some of their key pieces going forward.

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