INDIANAPOLIS — As the Indiana Pacers exited the court and into the locker room — and later the press conference area — the questions immediately began to pop up.
Will Paul George remain in a blue and gold jersey? How will the Pacers improve their roster to convince George to stay? Can Indiana keep Jeff Teague or will another organization out-bid the hometown team?
Will George make an All-NBA team so General Manager Kevin Pritchard can offer him the richest contract in NBA history?
One of those questions has already been answered as the media voted George off all three of the All-NBA teams, putting the pressure on Indiana even further as the offseason begins.
“If we want to win, (Cleveland is) a team that we have to work toward stacking up against,” George said to reporters following the 106-102 Game 4 loss to the Cavaliers. “At some point, if we want to be serious as a team, we’ve got to look at how we can match up against them.”
Pritchard was handed the reigns after Larry Bird stepped down as President of Basketball Operations. For years the former Portland GM stood silent as Bird made all of the decisions. But now it’s his time to shine and convince George that he can assemble a championship-ready roster.
The key is time. How soon can Pritchard fix the roster? He’s willing to take risks now that he’s in charge.
“I think you have to be bold in this position,” Pritchard said to the media earlier after being named the team’s president of basketball operations. “I like interchanging pieces, I like moving around in the draft, I want to be aggressive, I want to make deals.”
Pritchard’s first offseason at the helm will require a lot of work.
Indianapolis native and former All-Star Jeff Teague — along with C.J. Miles, Lavoy Allen, and Aaron Brooks — will become free agents this summer. George has one year left on his contract that he signed back in 2013 and could become trade bait if to a team like the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, or the Portland Trail Blazers.
Teague will be an unrestricted free agent. Miles opted out of the final year of his contract so he can test the market.
The point guard — who will be 29 in the month of June — is due for a big payday after making just $8 million this season. He had one of his best seasons of his career.
He loves his hometown team. With the salary cap raising, a team that is desperate for a lead guard — such as the Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, Dallas Mavericks, or New York Knicks — could make things difficult for Indiana.
“I love Indiana man,” Teague said to reporters after the Cleveland series. “You all know me, born and raised, tattoos on my arm. I’ve been wanting to play with the Pacers my whole life. It’s a great opportunity for me to be here and I love it.
“I’ve never been a free agent, I don’t know how it goes. I love it here, but you never know, how they feel about me or whatever. I love being in Indiana, it’s great, got a home here. But you never know.”
While keeping George is one of Pritchard’s priorities this summer, retaining Teague will be at the top of his list as well.
Back on July 13, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Pacers had the opportunity to offer the newly acquired point guard a raise up to his maximum salary — which is an estimated $26.4 million.
The Vertical’s Bobby Marks had this to say about the Teague situation:
“George’s status should not impact the Pacers’ decision on Teague.
While Miles should be a priority, Teague is a necessity.
The cost, however, could be substantial.
Teams value Teague’s durability and the well-managed minutes (career average of 27 per game) he’s played in his eight-year career.
The market for Teague will be affected by the marquee free-agent point guards likely remaining with their current teams.”
But all eyes will be on George this summer.
Pritchard said he expects to keep the star in an Indiana uniform for as long as possible. Both of them want to win, and the Pacers have a history of consistently making the playoffs. But — like last summer — an adjustment to the roster must happen.
“This team has been to the playoffs 22 of the last 29 years and we want to be successful,” Pritchard said. “The message (from George) was that he wants to win. We want to win. So we’re on the same page.”