The Indiana Pacers officially kick off training camp this week. While most of the team had already arrived in Indianapolis and began working out with their teammates in recent weeks, official group activities begin soon with preseason games tipping off in short order.
In less than ten days, Indiana will take on the New York Knicks to begin exhibition play. In preparation for those games and the upcoming camp, the Pacers finalized their 20-man training camp roster with a combination of signings, waivers, and salary cap maneuvers.
After a chaotic draft night in which the front office made a handful of moves, the Pacers quickly turned to adding players for training camp — and more specifically, guys that could battle for the final roster spot when the regular season starts. The first move the team made was signing 27-year old Keifer Sykes to a training camp deal.
Sykes, a point guard with years of overseas experience, joined the Pacers on a contract that contains an exhibit-10 clause, meaning he will receive a $50,000 bonus if he is waived and ends up playing for the Pacers G League affiliate team, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, for at least 60 days. If he ends up making the final 15-man roster and stays in the NBA, his contract will be a one-year minimum deal worth just over $900,000.
Sykes played for the Pacers in summer league, where he turned heads with his strong performances. He averaged eight points and two assists per game while shooting 55% from the field in his five appearances — his past experience playing overseas and in NBA training camps gave him an edge early on with the blue and gold.
J Michael of the Indianapolis Star reported that Sykes has an opportunity to make the Pacers regular season squad. Indiana has to cut the roster down to 17 members after training camp, and several players within camp have non-guaranteed deals that could be ended with no financial requirement from the team. Sykes has a chance to rise above the rest of that group and be the Pacers third point guard this season.
“[I’m] trying to get a two-way or trying to get a roster spot. Just showing teams that I can help them win is what I want to do,” Sykes said after joining the Pacers.
After that signing, the Pacers made a trio of moves to solidify one of their two-way contract slots. To get the ball rolling, they pulled a qualifying offer that they had originally provided to former wing Cassius Stanley. Had Stanley accepted the qualifying offer, he would have been signed with Indiana on a two-way deal, but by pulling the offer completely, the Pacers signaled they had little intention of having Stanley return to the team. Instead, he will join the Detroit Pistons for training camp.
Not long after this move, the Pacers waived Amida Brimah, who was on a two-way contract. Brimah played with the Pacers last season, logging 29 minutes when the team desperately needed some interior depth. But with improved health and the addition of athletic rookie Isaiah Jackson, Brimah was no longer needed, so the Pacers let him go to free up a two-way slot.
With that two-way opening, the team added guard DeJon Jarreau. Jarreau, a rookie from the University of Houston, went undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft before finding a spot on the Miami Heat’s summer league roster. He impressed with that opportunity, averaging 11.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game in five appearances. He also showed off some hard-nosed defensive instincts, which is the exact type of player the Pacers are looking to add after taking a massive step back on defense this past season. Jarreau will attempt to prove that he can contribute for the Pacers throughout training camp and into the season on his two-way deal, a contract that will allow him to split time between the NBA and the G League.
“I just try to be able to play with anybody. Figure out their games and try to figure out how I can make it easier on them so they can get to their spots and be successful. As a point guard, I just try to pride myself on that,” Jarreau said at summer league. He could battle for NBA minutes if injuries hit the Pacers hard this season — they are low on depth at the point guard position.
After adding Jarreau and Sykes, the Pacers had just one roster spot remaining. Before filling it, though, the Indiana front office made a move that gave themselves more options heading into training camp. Pacers brass and Kelan Martin came to an agreement to push back the date that his $1.7 million contract would become fully guaranteed for the 2021-22 season from August 31st to opening night of the NBA campaign.
This maneuver marked the second time this summer that Indiana and Martin have agreed to push back the guarantee date on his deal. Because Martin’s deal is fully non-guaranteed, the Pacers had some leverage — if the Butler product did not agree to push his contract timeline back, then the team could have simply cut him and freed up some money. But since Martin wanted to fight for a chance to earn a spot on the Indiana roster and prove his worth to a new coaching staff, he decided to move back his contract guarantee date, get on to the training camp roster, and work on his game. It’s his best shot at making an NBA squad this year.
Martin played for the Pacers last season and averaged 4.5 points per game in 25 appearances. The 26-year old was outside of the team’s rotation for most of the campaign, but he had some huge performances down the stretch when given an opportunity, including a 25 point explosion in Cleveland. Given his organizational familiarity and scoring ability, Martin has the early lead for the Pacers final roster spot entering camp. He will compete with a few other players for that opening, however, so he needs to continue to play well for the next few weeks.
“He’s got a good chance to make the team,” President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said of Martin at Pacers media day on Monday.
Altering Martin’s contract didn’t impact any open roster spots, so the Pacers still had one spot left for training camp after moving back his guarantee date. In early September, the team used that opening to bring in Nate Hinton. Hinton, a unique wing/guard hybrid, spent his rookie season on a two-way contract with the Dallas Mavericks, where he scored two points per game in 21 appearances.
Hinton is a solid rebounder and defender for someone of his size and position, which made him an alluring prospect when he entered the NBA in 2020. Hinton went undrafted after spending two seasons at the University of Houston, where he and Jarreau were teammates. Those two helped lead the Cougars to a pair of excellent seasons. Now, they get to play together again.
Hinton, like Sykes, has an Exhibit 10 clause included in his deal, meaning he will receive a $50,000 bonus if he is waived by the Pacers and then reports to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants for at least 60 days. Hinton has other connections to the Pacers beyond his relationship with Jarreau — he played for new Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle while developing with the Mavericks last season. That link could help Hinton acclimate quickly in training camp with his new team.
“He’s aggressive,” Carlisle explained when describing Hinton, per the Mavericks official website. “Defensively, he’s a physical tough defender that has good anticipation.”
All of these moves, combined with the draft night additions of Duane Washington Jr. and Terry Taylor, finalized the back end of the Pacers training camp roster. Because Martin’s contract is non-guaranteed and Indiana has a need for depth at point guard, there should be a competition for the final spot on the 15-man roster for the blue and gold over the coming days. Martin’s talent gives him the edge, but point guards may get a strong look. Two-way contracts can be converted to standards contracts, too, so the Pacers have a lot of candidates battling for the final spots on the 2021-22 roster.
Given how close the Pacers are to the luxury tax line, keeping the final roster spot vacant heading into the season isn’t out of the question, though the team would almost certainly prefer to have someone in that spot. A player on a non-guaranteed deal would give the Pacers the most flexibility during the season, so if Martin does earn the final roster spot, look for the team to ask him to move back his guarantee date for a third time. If doing so meant he earned a chance to be on the 15-man roster, Martin would likely be willing to do so.
But he would have to earn that roster spot, and that might not be an easy task. Sykes and Jarreau were impressive in summer league, Hinton has a connection to the Pacers coaching staff, and both Washington and Taylor have high-level skills in key areas of the game. Any one of those players could earn a promotion on to Indiana’s regular season roster if they impress in camp, and competition is good for everybody.
The Pacers have their camp roster in place, and the front office set up a situation where there can be a healthy competition for the final roster spot. That will benefit everyone involved, and it should allow the Pacers, from top to bottom, to start their season off on the right foot.