Not long after the final buzzer signaled the end of the Indiana Pacers’ season on Sunday, Victor Oladipo fired off a text to his trainer. The 2017-18 season wasn’t even cold yet, but Oladipo wanted to start preparing for next season, eager to build off of the success that saw Indiana become a surprising 5-seed in the East after being written off post-Paul George trade.
Hopefully for the Pacers, the front office is taking a similar cue and looking forward to how to build on this season and not being satisfied with the results of a surprise postseason run. Indiana likely won’t have a ton of cap space to work with this summer, but there are things Kevin Pritchard and company can do to avoid the pitfalls that have trapped other teams that have recently found themselves in similar positions.
The Portland Trail Blazers are the best example of a team that made a surprising run to the playoffs when they were expected to be fighting for lottery position during the 2015-16 season. Instead, the Blazers clawed their way to the fifth seed in the West at 44-38, making the second round thanks to the emergence of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as a lethal backcourt combination. Portland also saw major leaps taken by role players like Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless, Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, and Al-Farouq Aminu.
Lillard and McCollum were handed max deals, which was more than understandable and both have continued to play up to a high level in the regular season. The problem Portland has run into, which is causing many fans to wonder if they need to tear things down, is that the front office fell in love with those role players that had career-type years and handed them massive contracts with the idea they would continue developing.
Allen Crabbe was given a 4-year, $75 million offer sheet by Brooklyn that Portland chose to match. He was traded, ironically, to the Nets last summer. Maurice Harkless was given a 4-year, $42 million deal, which he redeemed to an extent in the second half of this season after a disastrous 2016-17 campaign. Meyers Leonard was given $41 million over four years and has fallen almost completely out of the rotation. Their big free agent signing that summer was Evan Turner, who got a 4-year, $70 million deal even though Portland just handed out more than $110 million to wing players in Crabbe and Harkless.