Pacers president on free agency: ‘I love going big-fish hunting’

By Ethan Sears

Kevin Pritchard, the new chief decision-maker for the Indiana Pacers, gave an interview to Dan Dakich of 1070 the Fan on Tuesday and it was, well, it was something. Pritchard, who replaced Larry Bird as the head of basketball operations after Bird stepped down last week, has a tough road ahead with Paul George’s free agency next summer and trade rumors flying in all directions.

Indiana owner Herb Simon, however, is willing to spend. Up to the luxury tax, that is.

The problem: spending in the NBA means going over the luxury tax. If it took coercing to get Herb Simon to agree to pay up to the luxury tax, that’s a bad sign because the salary cap exists, inherently, so that small-market teams like the Pacers can spend the same amount of money as the Lakers, Knicks and Heat. If Simon isn’t willing to go up to the luxury tax — the top end of the cap — then he’s failing to take advantage of the biggest advantage the league gives to small markets.

Pritchard hedged by saying Simon may go into the luxury tax to retain someone like George, but that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence if you’re George, a player who, even according to Pritchard, is completely focused on winning.

Some other hits: Pritchard thinks the Pacers wouldn’t have won a mere 42 games had bench scorer, center Al Jefferson, been in shape.

Let’s be clear, this is absurd. Al Jefferson is a 32-year old offense-only center whose scoring comes mainly from inefficient post-ups. Next year, he will be 33 and still not good at defense. Pacers fans should be praying that Jefferson does not anchor the second unit in 2017, though perhaps they should put that prayer on hold if the other option is Tyler Hansbrough.

In 2015-16 (Hansbrough didn’t play in the NBA this season), Hansbrough scored 10.9 points and rebounded 9.3 per 36 minutes on 45.1 percent shooting in 44 games with the Charlotte Hornets. He also can’t play center and has made just three 3-pointers in his entire career, which is a problem in today’s NBA.

The most positive thing Pritchard said today: come free agency, he loves big fish hunting.

Of course, getting Herb Simon to spend will be a hurdle there, but at least Pritchard’s sights are set in the right place here. Indiana’s free agency has been uninspiring at best for the last few years — with the marquee signing being Monta Ellis before the 2015-16 season. Ellis, in large part, has flopped as a Pacer as the league continues to marginalize volume scorers who live in the midrange.

If Pritchard wants to keep George in Indiana, the first step will be this summer. Winning is George’s priority and another 42-win season won’t cut it. Let’s just say Pritchard has to reel in a few decent-sized marlin before the end of July.