Why the Pacers tossed out Bruce Brown Jr.

The Indiana Pacers’ first move this summer was to agree terms with Bruce Brown Jr. on a 2-year, $45 million deal with a team option for the second season.

In a vacuum, paying Brown, who averaged 11.5/4.1/3.4 last season with the Nuggets, $22 million in salary and being the team’s highest-paid player next season might seem confusing. But there is a lot of context to this deal that makes the number reasonable and even necessary.

1. The new CBA really encourages hitting the salary floor

To put it simply, the Pacers had to spend money this summer somewhere. With the new CBA, there are much greater consequences for franchises that do not reach the salary floor (90% of the salary cap). If a team does not reach this minimum figure ($122.4 million for 2023-2024) before the season starts, they forfeit 50% of any luxury tax payments they would have received from other teams and must pay the shortfall. of the floor anyway, where it is then distributed equally between every player in the NBA. Previously, that amount would have been shared only among the players on the team that did not reach the floor, and there was no penalty in terms of not receiving luxury tax. In 2024-25, teams that do not reach the salary floor receive 0% of their luxury tax share.

So the Pacers, who spent a large sum on Brown, blasted them through the floor, which will make their owner happy by ironically saving him money. But it’s not like Indiana is paying Brown tens of millions of dollars to sit at the end of the bench and be James Johnson next season, he will also add a lot of value on the court.

2. Defense, defense, defense

The Pacers were near the bottom of the league in nearly every defensive statistical ranking last season: 29th in points allowed per match, 26 in defensive rating. They know if they want to push toward the postseason next year, they need to improve on that end of the floor.

“We’ve got to get better defensively,” Rick Carlisle said after the season. “In the exit meetings today, I spoke to everyone that we will all have to take the challenge individually to raise our level.”

Well, Bruce Brown immediately comes in as the Pacers best perimeter and point of attack defender.

His springy athleticism allows the 6’4” wing to make some wow plays, even defending the rim at times.

While Brown joins the Pacers’ ever-growing club of players who are under 6’6″ he is able to defend bigger players on a switch and also hold his own. He adds plenty of unique skills and versatility that don’t get him to feel redundant as another 2/3 winger.

3. Documented role player with malleability

With a young team with very limited playoff experience among its roster, Brown can provide leadership in knowing what it takes to perform at the highest level. Not only did Brown win a championship with the Nuggets last season as a role player, but he was a valuable piece for another contender in the Brooklyn Nets the previous two seasons.

With some free agents, you might worry if taking them out of their current ecosystem will take a step back in their game, but that feels less of a concern for Brown when he’s had success at every stop in his career alongside different kinds of stars and shape-shifting within a variety of roles.

With the Nets, he was often the primary screen setter for Harden/Irving/Durant and would make a ton of plays that went past the short throw. Whenever teams try to take the ball out of Tyrese Haliburton’s hands by sending two to the ball, Brown can make things happen in the resulting 4-on-3 situations.

Ignore the Blake Griffin parts of this video

With the Nuggets, he played off Nikola Jokic to perfection with his timely cuts and transition plays and had some ball handling duties as well.

Carlisle should have fun using Brown in creative ways. Brown adds another high-feel playmaker to the starting lineup that should complement Haliburton and make it harder for defenses to sell out and force the ball out of his hands. With those two and maybe rookie Jarace Walker all in the same lineup, the ball movement should be breathtaking.

Brown is great in transition, a skilled 3-point shooter (outside the left corner) and an athletic finisher at the rim. He doesn’t take a ton of threes, but increased his attempts to 3.2 per. game last year and made 35.8% overall.

4. Lower offers probably won’t get Brown to come

The only reason Brown isn’t staying in Denver is because the Nuggets were limited in what they could offer him. Because he had only been on their team for one season, they did not have his bird rights, which allow teams to re-sign players while over the salary cap. After he declined his player option, they could only offer him $7.8 million for this next season, which was clearly way below his market value. Hard to blame him for leaving, even after this happened at Denver’s championship parade.

To get Brown to come to Indiana, an unproven, young, up-and-coming team instead of one already seen as a contender, the Pacers would have to pay a premium. Several candidates would see Brown as an attractive option on the mid-level exception that allows over-the-cap teams to offer a starting salary of $12.4 million. Combine the need to top those offers with the need to hit the salary floor anyway, and you can see why the contract makes perfect sense.

Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers front office lured Brown with a chance to make nearly double the mid-level amount this season and far more money than he’s made in his entire career thus far ($15 million over five years in the league). If things don’t work out, Indiana has the option to decline the team next summer. Brown can then find a new team willing to give him the MLE or a longer-term deal, while the Pacers have flexibility to make new additions. But there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that this could also end up being a long-term marriage.

If you need more Bruce Brown content in your life and you haven’t read Caitlin Cooper yet, what are you doing?

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