KRAVITZ: With Thad Young back in the Pacers' fold, it's time to find some long-range shooters

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Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS — Now it's about finding shooters, floor-spreaders, three-point marksmen. Now it's about signing Will Barton, or Wayne Ellington, or maybe even Joe Harris, all players who can stretch the floor and give Victor Oladipo options once he breaks down a defense.

Thad Young is coming back, and that is undeniably good news for a management team that has made it clear since the end of the season that it hoped Young would opt back in and play out the final year of his $13.7 million contract with the Pacers.

This is a smart move, both competitively and business-wise, by Young.

It's smart competitively because the Pacers are a young team on the rise, a team whose nucleus centers around Oladipo (26 years old), Domantas Sabonis (22) and Myles Turner (22). It's smart competitively because the Pacers are one of the very few teams in the league with a happy, agreeable locker room, where players root for one another and support one another. That's exceedingly rare in this league. They're a team short on ego and high on promise. With Young back, and every reason to believe both Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic will return, the Pacers are bringing back their top six players, and still have cap room to find a shooter in free agency or make one or several uneven trades. This group won 48 games last year and went 0-7 when Oladipo didn't play, so 50-plus victories is not beyond the realm of possibility next season.

"What we have here, you don't see this is many locker rooms in our league,'' Young said during the Cleveland series. "There are no egos. Guys get along. We've got a rare chemistry.''

And if LeBron James moves West — stay tuned for The Decision: Again — it will excise at least one team from Eastern Conference contention, opening the door for the Celtics (who will be great for years to come), the Sixers (ditto), the Raptors (they'll win 50 and then who knows what will happen?) and the Pacers. It would be shocking if Indiana didn't earn homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs next season, a really big deal when you consider how they lost Game 7 at Cleveland this past spring.

This is a smart move in a business sense because teams are no longer spending crazy money on mid-level free agents.

Remember 2016? Teams were flush with cap cash and they made it rain on undeserving, middling players across the league. Chandler Parsons got four years and $94 million. Joakim Noah got four years and $72.6 million. Solomon Hill, the former Pacer bench player, got a ridiculous 4-year, $48 million deal from New Orleans.

By 2017, though, teams came around to understanding that they were spending foolishly and the market tightened. Same thing, it appears, for 2018. The top guys like James and others will earn the mega-millions, but the secondary-level players will be hard pressed to do any better than Young is currently doing with the Pacers. There will not be a major increase in the salary cap next year, so $13.7 is pretty nice scratch for a guy who averaged 11.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game (although his contributions, especially on defense, can't be fully quantified). In the playoffs, he averaged 11.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals while shooting 60 percent from the field with his unorthodox offensive game.

We saw what Young meant in that Cleveland series, when he established himself again as Indiana's best post defender and drove Kevin Love crazy. Love, you might remember, made just 12-of-43 from the field and committed 12 turnovers during the time Young defended him in that first-round series. Young also took on the responsibility of covering James late in several playoff games. He's a modern-day defender, both 6-foot-8 and quick-footed, capable of switching onto smaller players should it become necessary.

Is he a star? No. And in fact, there was some talk the Pacers might chase free agent power forward Aaron Gordon of the Magic, a wildly athletic player who has not yet reached his full potential.

Is he a very nice player on a good team? Absolutely.

Not just because of what he provides on the floor, but for the leadership he provides in the room. On a young team, Young is an unquestioned adult, always ready and willing to keep teammates accountable.

Sometimes the grass, and the money, are greener elsewhere, and for a time, Young was smartly and rightfully contemplating his options. In the end, though, he chose to stay put, and it was the right move both for Young and for the Pacers.

Now it's time to be aggressive, either in free agency or the trade market, and find a shooter or even two.

July 1 is around the corner.

It's going to get interesting around here.

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