Pacers Last Week: Nov. 16 — A busy week ahead, Calbert Cheaney added to staff and a potential March Madness bubble in Indy
Gear up for a week full of news and transactions across the league. The Pacers already made one hire to begin the week.
I know it can be a lot to follow the team, especially in the current times. I want to help simplify that, so that’s why I established “Pacers Last Week.” Each week, you can expect a summary of all key Pacers items from the last week, plus a brief look ahead to next week. This roundup will evolve over time. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
Buckle up, it’s about to get interesting. Instead of the draft, free agency and such spread out over several weeks, it’s all jammed into this week due to the pandemic.
On Monday, the trade moratorium was lifted and already we’ve seen agreements in place for Dennis Schroder to be acquired by the Lakers and the Thunder getting off Chris Paul’s contract thanks to the Suns. In the meantime, there’s been plenty of reporting throughout the league about players exercising their player options or opting to consider their options in free agency.
One name to monitor over the next 24 hours is Gordon Hayward. He has a player option, worth $34 million, to consider.
Meanwhile, most of the Pacers’ roster is set. Everyone in the rotation, in fact, except for Justin Holiday. He’s an unrestricted free agent and I’m told he’s very interested in returning, but also is hopeful for the first multi-year contract of his career. Younger brother Aaron, 24, is entering his third season in the league.
In the coming days, the front office must finalize its decision on whether to bring T.J. McConnell back. It’s a relatively small number ($3.5 million), he’s great for the locker room and had a productive regular season. But he played 28 minutes in the playoffs and takes away minutes from Aaron Holiday, who they hold in high regard.
The team has the option to waive McConnell and only be on the hook for $1 million, but that doesn’t seem likely. (He has his first child on the way, by the way. A boy.)
They will then have to decide whether to extend a qualifying offer ($1.8 million) to 2018 second-round pick Alize Johnson, whether to pick up the team option on Holiday’s rookie deal for 2021-22, and more.
The draft is quickly approaching. It will be held on Wednesday (Nov. 18), five months later than normal. It’s less interesting for the Pacers, whose first-rounder belongs to the Bucks — part of the sign-and-trade deal executed last offseason for Malcolm Brogdon. Their only pick, at least at the moment, is No. 54 with the goal to find a potential rotational player.
“I would say this draft is a little bit light at the top in terms of the number of franchise-changing talents,” Ryan Carr, the Pacers’ VP of Player Personnel, said Monday afternoon. “But I think as you get into the depth of it, it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill draft.”
Calbert Cheaney joins coaching staff
The Pacers made some news early Monday morning when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that former IU star Calbert Cheaney was joining the coaching staff.
Cheaney is 49 years old and spent the last two seasons as an assistant for the Hawks’ G League team, the Erie BayHawks.
Cheaney played for Bob Knight at IU from 1989-93, was the 1993 national college player of the year and remains the Big Ten's all-time leading scorer.
During Cheaney’s final year, Carr was a freshman manager. When asked about the news, Carr lit up and smiled wide. He prefaced his response by saying “I don’t think there’s been any official announcement.”
There hadn’t. But then he shared this strong testimonial: “I will say there’s not a person in basketball that I probably think higher of than him. If, for some way, he one day ends up as part of the Indiana Pacers, I would be ecstatic. He’s a name that I know I’ve brought up here many times over the years as being a person that would make a great contribution in any way.
“Calbert is a heck of a guy.”
The Pacers announced the three assistant coaches under first-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren on Friday: Bill Bayno, Kaleb Canales and Greg Foster. For decades, the Pacers have kept their staff tight and limited to three assistants. Bjorkgren has other hires to make as well, sources said, including his video coordinators.
It’s my understanding that Cheaney will be behind the bench. It’s a role they spoke about with Kansas great Danny Manning, a former teammate of Kevin Pritchard, but a source said not being on the front of the bench was a non-starter.
Cheaney returned to IU in 2011 and worked under Tom Crean as director of basketball operations for two seasons — two of Victor Oladipo’s three seasons in Bloomington.
Oladipo’s close associates respond
Tom Crean called a local radio show. His twin sister actively spoke out on Twitter. And Aaron Turner, his agent, appeared on SiriusXM NBA radio. But in light of a story published last week in the Indianapolis Star, we have not heard from Victor Oladipo directly.
He did, however, share two sentences with Shams Charania of The Athletic. And once again, it was during a Friday news dump time period.
"I know there have been people saying that I have asked players to trade for me. That's just not true, period. I love my teammates, I cherish the state of Indiana and I'm focused on leading this franchise to a title," he said.
This is what I immediately tweeted and I still feel this way: After all that has transpired over the last two years, a statement isn’t enough. I’d like to see Victor communicate his thoughts and feelings in an open forum. It behooves him to clear the air.
Oladipo went live dozens of times on Instagram in the summer. He launched a YouTube channel. He’s a smart guy. It would be wise for him to express his feelings, keep it short and move along.
G League on hold
The NBA has its hands full preparing to open camp on Dec. 1 all while cases of COVID-19 are up and a plan has yet to be shared. Teams are busier than ever following protocols and having discussions leading up to the draft and free agency.
So it’s no surprise that the G League is just … waiting there. Addressing the Mad Ants appears to be on the back-burner entering an extremely busy week.
Steve Gansey has been the head coach of the Mad Ants since 2015 and he’s been with the franchise for a decade. His contract is up, per sources. Peter Dinwiddie oversaw the Mad Ants the last two seasons, but he moved on to the 76ers.
It’s also unclear what a potential G League would like this season. Many assistant coaches have part-time contracts and they’re calling around looking for answers. And assistants who are out of a job because of head coaching changes are in pursuit as well. There’s many talented assistants who recognize they may have to sit out this season and be prepared for openings next summer.
NCAA men’s basketball bubble coming to Indy? That’s the goal.
The NCAA, headquartered in Indianapolis, announced that they will be eliminating the 13 preliminary sites for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Instead, they want to host the 68-team field in a central location for their own kind of bubble.
Indianapolis makes for a perfect host, which is why the two sides are already having discussions about execution and what it might look like.
“Indiana Sports Corp and its partners are currently working with the NCAA on the possibility of Indy hosting all 67 games of the Division I Men's Basketball Championship,” Indiana Sports Corp president Ryan Vaughn said in a statement. “We welcome this tremendous opportunity for our city and are confident that we could make this an incredible, and safe experience for all involved.”
This is a no-brainer considering Indy’s hospitality, ability to host events, the number of hotels available and top-rate facilities. Games could be hosted at Lucas Oil Stadium, which was already set to host the men’s Final Four (April 3-5, 2021), Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse and Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
And as much fun it is to consider gyms like Southport, New Castle and The Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, remember that high school courts are 84 feet compared to college and NBA floors that are 94 feet in length. And they have to factor in locker rooms, benches and the appearance on television.
Indy says bring it on.
Top draft prospects sent special locker box and media kit
Like the WNBA and NFL drafts earlier this year, the NBA Draft will be held remotely. It will be held at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., but draft hopefuls won’t be there.
Therefore, 30 top prospects are all receiving a draft locker that is full of stuff: all 30 team caps, a personalized Spalding basketball, Beats speaker and headphones and an Oculus virtual reality headset.
On top of that, draft hopefuls were all sent media kits so they could appear on the draft show. The tech includes a Surface tablet, an iPhone, tripod, Ring light and more. ESPN will have live look-ins from 17 draft rooms and has 19 satellite trucks for a more reliable connection from prospects’ home.
Rubio packs his bags, again
I couldn’t help but think of a what-if Monday afternoon. Last offseason, the Pacers were at the goal line on a free-agent deal with Ricky Rubio. Instead, they completed a sign-and-trade for Malcolm Brogdon.
Now part of today’s trade, highlighted by Chris Paul going to Phoenix, Rubio is headed to the Thunder — his third team in four seasons.
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