INDIANAPOLIS — The offseason presents numerous questions for the Indiana Pacers following their first-round loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs.
The biggest question — when will star combo guard Victor Oladipo be back?
Pacers president Kevin Pritchard could not give a definitive timeline for Oladipo’s return from a torn right knee tendon he suffered last January. But after having dinner with Oladipo on Sunday, Pritchard said he’s confident the former Indiana University standout will be back at some point next season.
“He has made it perfectly clear to me that he is going to be back and a better player,” Pritchard said. “When that is, I’m not sure, but it’s coming along really nicely. He feels pretty good about it.”
Pritchard and Pacers coach Nate McMillan both addressed the media at a season-ending press conference Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, in which they discussed Oladipo’s recovery and the potential reshaping of the team due to the possible departure of seven free agents.
Pritchard said the Pacers will have between $43 million and $45 million in salary cap space to work with during the offseason.
“A lot of things can be done with that,” Pritchard said. “A lot of people think that’s just about signing a player. Really with $43 million in salary cap space, it allows you to do uneven trades. It allows trades to go into that cap space. It allows you to go sign players. It just gives you a lot of flexibility.”
Oladipo has been working out with his personal trainer in Miami and has just started the physical therapy phase of his rehabilitation after spending 12 to 13 weeks waiting for the tendon to heal following surgery.
“In Victor’s style, he has promised that he will come back 200 to 300 percent of what he was,” Pritchard said. “It’s funny when you talk to him like that, how do you not believe him? It’s just so contagious of his personality.”
Filling the scoring void left by Oladipo could be addressed in free agency, depending on how physical therapy progresses. Oladipo averaged 23.1 points in his first season with the Pacers in 2017-18 and was averaging 18.8 points at the time of his injury last January.
“Hopefully before July 1 [when free agency starts] we will have a better feel,” Pritchard said. “I don’t think we will have a great feel to when he’ll be back because there’s a lot of physical therapy.”
— Pritchard said re-signing forward Bojan Bogdanovic this offseason is a priority, but it will be easier said than done, depending on the market for the 30-year-old forward. “We would like to have extensive talks with Bojan,” Pritchard said. “He’s going to have extensive interest. You can feel that already. You feel that at the trade deadline when you are talking about players.” Bogdanovic averaged 18 points, 4.1 rebounds and two assists, shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from 3-point range while stepping into the role as Indiana’s primary scorer in Oladipo’s absence.
— Pritchard and McMillan remain bullish on the potential of forward Domantas Sabonis, who as Indiana’s sixth man averaged 14.1 points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds. “The one thing I know about Domantas is he’s going to make himself better this summer,” Pritchard said. “He’s a big-time worker. His role will get bigger.” Said McMillan: “He took a step where we could see him next year as a starter.” That could make the decision to part with pending free agent power forward Thaddeus Young easier, if Young receives a high offer elsewhere.
— At the point guard position, both starter Darren Collison and backup Tyreke Evans could depart as free agents. That will put the Pacers in the market for at the position this offseason, though the organization also is high on the development of rookie point Aaron Holiday. A first-round pick out of UCLA, Holiday, the younger brother of NBA guards Jrue and Justin Holiday, appeared in 50 games for the Pacers, averaging 5.9 points and 1.7 assists off the bench. “He has a maturity about him, and I think it’s due to the fact that he’s had brothers who have played in the game for a long time,” McMillan said. “He’s trained with those guys for a long time. Whenever he got the opportunity to play for us, he played with confidence and did good things for us. I feel he should be a rotational player [in 2019-20] and a guy that can play the one [point guard] and the two [shooting guard].”
— On this June’s NBA draft, Pritchard likes where the Pacers sit at the 18th overall pick. “People think this is a pretty good draft in that area,” Pritchard said. NBADraft.net projects the Pacers to take Bol Bol, a versatile, 7-foot-2 shot blocker from Oregon. IU standout guard Romeo Langford, projected to go 17th to the Brooklyn Nets at NBADraft.net, could also fall to the Pacers at 18. “We’re going to be open minded,” Pritchard said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that pick isn’t the pick we pick. We either move down, we move up, we trade the pick. We’re going to be aggressive with that pick.”
— Pritchard said he was proud of how the Pacers stayed together following the Oladipo injury to win 48 regular-season games. “Hard to even imagine losing your best player with a season-ending injury and still staying competitive.” Pritchard said. The Pacers were 31-15 when Oladipo went down and finished the season 17-19 without him, falling from the third to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. “We didn’t hold on to the third spot, but we fought for that late into the season,” Pritchard said.