The Pacers entered deadline day with about $14.3 million in cap space, the most in the league, meaning they could absorb salary up to that amount without sending out any player salary in return. They have decided to use more than half of that to swallow up Leandro Barbosa’s $7.6 million expiring contract in exchange for a second-round draft pick in order to (in theory) prop up an offense that has ranked as average or worse in points per possession all season.
The move likely takes them out of the running for Chris Kaman, who earns almost exactly $14 million this season and would thus require the Pacers to move out several medium-sized salaries in order to take on Kaman and remain under the cap.
Barbosa, a combo guard who can still score in isolation and via the pick-and-roll, will display some occasionally nutty shot selection and joins a crowded guard/wing rotation that already includes Darren Collison, Paul George, George Hill, A.J. Price, Dahntay Jones (who can and does swing to small forward) and (until recently) Lance Stephenson. The Pacers really don’t know what kind of offense they’ll get from any of these guys on a night-to-night basis, and Barbosa simply adds another “roll the dice” piece to Frank Vogel’s arsenal.
Barbosa is fading with age; he has attempted 5.1 long two-point jumpers per 40 minutes this season, by far the highest number of his career, and he has hit a horrid 28 percent of those shots. He doesn’t get to the rim as often as he used to. He will take at least one maddening off-the-dribble jumper while nearly falling out of bounds every game. At 6-foot-3, he is probably a below-average defender at this point and can struggle against the bigger and physical shooting guards in the league.
He is also not a point guard, even if the Raptors have tried him there in very, very limited minutes this season. And point guard is the position where Indiana can really use some help. Collison’s development has been uneven on both ends, and Hill’s game leans more toward shooting guard, even he has been stealing some of Collison’s minutes at the point lately. Collison can look like a top-flight distributor on one night and a passive, confused point guard on the next who pulls up too early, misses some briefly open passing lanes and veers out of position defending the pick-and-roll. Stephenson has looked mostly out of control this season, and it’s clear at this point that Vogel would rather use Price as his third point guard if he can pull it off.
Barbosa doesn’t really solve this issue, nor does he provide Indiana the third consistent two-way big man it apparently needs now that Tyler Hansbrough has morphed into a sub-40 percent shooter clanking away from the mid-range and the post.
But Barbosa can still score a bit and create for others in a pinch. Barbosa shot 48 percent out of isolation plays last season and is at 44 percent this season, placing him among the league’s three-dozen or so most efficient scorers in one-on-one attack mode, per Synergy. He will join Hill and Danny Granger as yet another Pacer wing player who can run an effective pick-and-roll but shouldn’t necessarily be expected to run an effective pick-and-roll every time he’s involved in one. He’s an above-average three-point shooter, which can help a Pacers team that ranks near the bottom of the league in three-point attempts per game.
In a larger sense, Barbosa provides another decent bench piece on a team that could use some bench stability. The Pacers’ starting lineup has been one of the league’s most effective high-usage units all season, outscoring opponents by nearly 11 points per 100 possessions. Things get dicey when they bring in any bench player save for Hill, who of course happens to be the bench player most similar to Barbosa. It will be most interesting to see what happens to Jones, a solid (if overrated) defender who provides glimpses of explosive scoring play amid very long stretches of non-production. If Barbosa takes some of the minutes Vogel gives now to Jones, Price, Stephenson and any slumping starter, he’ll help the offense, though Vogel will have to be something of an in-game magician in figuring out who should play and who deserves a quick hook on a particular night.
This is obviously not a game-changer for Indiana, whose upside is probably to be hosting an ugly, defense-first Game 6 in the second round against Miami or Chicago before bowing out 48 minutes later. Still, for a team fresh off a taste of playoff excitement last season, that’s a noble goal worth pursuing, and one Barbosa scoring flurry against, say, the Sixers in the first round could turn a crucial quarter in that pursuit. If Herb Simon, Indiana’s owner, is willing to pay what remains of Barbosa’s salary, that’s nice. It doesn’t turn the Pacers into a contender, and it doesn’t muck up their cap picture going forward, when they’ll have to re-sign Roy Hibbert, decide what to do with Hill and anticipate several other rookie deals coming up in future seasons.