The Indiana Pacers are entering a crucial season that could have a strong influence on their long-term future. One of the key factors contributing to that is Domantas Sabonis starting at power forward and being eligible for a contract extension.
As of the start of July, Sabonis has been eligible for an extension and the Pacers have until Oct. 23 to reach an agreement with him. If the sides fail to reach an agreement, Sabonis will simply play out the season and hit restricted free agency next summer.
The Pacers had plenty of areas to address before they were able to think about extending Sabonis' contract as they had the third most roster turnover in the league. After they managed to address their most pressing needs, president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard told WISH-TV's Charlie Clifford that getting an extension done with Sabonis is a priority.
"We made the call to Domas and his agent the very first minute and let him know that he is a priority, but let's work on it once these things settle down," Pritchard said. "We'll turn to it now, but it will have its own pace. Those things have their own pace. Domas knows how much he means [to us] and how much we want him here for the long-term. If we get him done on a long-term deal, we've now established a really good core that we can grow with for the next three, four, five years."
There is interest from both sides for as Sabonis told Lithuanian basketball reporter Donatas Urbonas that he expects to sign an extension with the Pacers this offseason. He also stated that he remains patient with the process and that his father, former international and NBA player Arvydas Sabonis, has been providing him with advice.
"Domantas Sabonis told [me] he expects to sign an extension with Indiana Pacers this offseason, but he remains patient: 'Like my dad said: 'You did your job. You did your best and now you just have to wait.' Now I can't do anything. I just need to be patient and wait,'" Urbonas reported on Twitter.
There have not been public updates regarding the Pacers' talks with Sabonis regarding an extension. That was the case for their talks with Myles Turner last year and both sides ended up reaching an agreement at the last minute. The deal ended up being a team-friendly four-year, $72 million contract with incentives allowing the deal to reach upwards to $80 million. After the deal was signed, Turner solidified himself as an elite defender and shot 38.8 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
The Lithuanian big is coming off a season with averages of 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. The decision to start him at power forward will likely translate to even greater production, especially since he will likely be leaned upon heavily as a playmaker while All-Star guard Victor Oladipo is sidelined. His price tag could be driven up before he reaches restricted free agency.
There is still a risk associated with getting a deal done before the season because it could turn out that playing Sabonis at power forward doesn't work. The Pacers would then basically be placed into a position that would require them to choose between Sabonis and Turner while both players could experience diminished trade value.
While there is doubt from outside the team's facilities regarding how Sabonis and Turner can fit together for long stretches, Sabonis told Urbonas that he thinks it will work. He mentioned that it may take an adjustment period and there may be some ups and downs, but that it ultimately they should be fine as long as there is trust.
There are a few key areas that need to be addressed by Pacers coach Nate McMillan when Sabonis and Turner share the floor. It starts with the floor spacing on the offensive end of the floor. The floor spacing was poor at times last season and that significantly restricted their offensive potential as a unit.
It would be advantageous for McMillan to give Turner the green light to shoot a high volume of 3-pointers. Having him space the floor more from deep would open up the floor for Sabonis to do the dirty work inside the paint. This would also enable Turner to use his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket from the perimeter more by attacking closeouts.
There may not be too much that can be done with the defensive side of the floor. The interior paint protection that Turner brings to the table will likely be able to cover up some of Sabonis' deficiencies when guarding modern power forwards. However, the Pacers need Sabonis to improve at defending in space. Managing to improve in this area would significantly raise the floor of the impact of the pairing.
The decision to draft Goga Bitadze does provide the Pacers with some insurance in case they were to face an offer sheet for Sabonis that they didn't feel comfortable matching. Bitadze also provides them with a backup option in case they were to decide to eventually trade either Sabonis or Turner.
This upcoming season appears to be a transitional period for the Pacers that will answer questions about their future. If the Turner and Sabonis frontcourt succeeds and they retain both bigs, then their core will be set. They could start the 2020-21 season with Oladipo potentially being healthy and little to no distractions.