It's been well documented that both Pacers President Larry Bird and head coach Jim O'Brien want to be active this offseason in improving this team through a variety of means. While conventions say to wait one more season for the summer of 2011 when nearly $30 million come off the Pacers' payroll, Bird and O'Brien have put themselves in a position where they must expedite the process for fear of not being around for the summer of 2011.
Bird's plan, according to his State of the Pacers address earlier this month, is to pursue draft picks, additional players via trade, and perhaps a free agent signing or two. As for O'Brien, he has one more season to prove he's worthy of staying on board during this "rebuilding" plan. It would be wise for him to spend a great deal of time in film study preparing a multitude of ways to improve the current roster rather than to be involve in the "roster makeover". His focus should remain on execution and player development.
In order for Bird's plan to take flight (yay puns!), he needs to take into consideration which teams throughout the league would even be interested in rostering any current player on this Pacers team. A good GM would identify his available players' strengths to try to match with other teams' weaknesses. A good GM would not eliminate any possibility of player movement as long as it was beneficial to the team and the city. A good GM would be willing to sacrifice the short term for the long.
Though I cannot say I am qualified to take on the responsibilities of a general manager for any NBA franchise, I do follow this sport closely and have a good feeling for which players on the Pacers roster can benefit other teams. Keep in mind the following represents my own personal belief on moves that would help a struggling franchise put more fans back into one of the most beautiful arenas in professional sports.
Jump in, the waters are warm!
I really only see two players (aside from Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert) who could command a first round pick on their own in a trade: Troy Murphy and T.J. Ford (that's correct!).
Troy Murphy - His strengths are rebounding and outside scoring. Earlier in his career, he was labeled an injury concern. But, he's made it through two near-complete seasons injury free. Murphy has been one of the most consistent option in the Pacers rotation and is by far the most attractive (not physically, of course) players to any near-championship caliber NBA team. His weakness are footwork and defense. Murphy would fit well in a team already established on the defensive side of the basketball and one who is looking for more outside scoring. Although he's the best trade piece for the Pacers, they would be wise to hold onto him until the 2011 trade deadline to maximize his value in a trade. Although, if the Pacers could earn an additional first round draft pick in 2010 or 2011, keeping Murphy would be a difficult decision to make. The only problem with trying to trade Murphy is most teams atop the standings don't need a Murphy-type player. Teams may not be as hesitant to take him with his final year salary. Here are teams that should be interested in Murphy's services:
Cleveland, Orlando, Phoenix, Milwaukee, and New Orleans
Both Shaq and Big Z are free agents after this season. Should one or both players leave, that opens up a huge void at the power forward/center position. Murphy provides great rebounding and perimeter scoring for a team that really has no reliable outside shooters. Unfortunately, Cleveland's 2010 first rounder was shipped to Washington in the Antawn Jamison trade, so they don't have any picks in the 2010 draft. Trading with Cleveland may not make much sense for the immediate future. But, a future first round pick from a team that may not have LeBron might end up being a fairly high selection.
Orlando takes more 3 point attempts than any other team in the Association. They also finished in the top 5 of the regular season in rebounds per game. This team fits Murphy's style of play quite well. Also, with the two-time defensive player of the year on their team, they don't have to worry as much about Murphy's defensive ineptitudes. Orlando selects 29 in the first round. But, packaging two draft picks and expiring contract (see T.J. Ford) might enable the Pacers to creep into the top-5 on draft day.
Phoenix is another up-tempo, small-ball team that could use Murphy to take some post pressure off Stoudemire. Anyone who seems to go to Phoenix become nearly automatic from behind the arc (they shot 41% as a team this season). I see Phoenix to be an almost identical team to Orlando in the west. Murphy could fit the Rashard Lewis role on their squad to provide mismatches for bigger, slower Power Forwards (yes, Murphy is surprisingly agile for his skin color/size). Phoenix has a lot of contracts coming off the book in two years and this may be their final shot at getting a championship. It's hard telling what the potential loss of Amare Stoudemire would do to Murphy's value in Phoenix. I'm guessing they'll need someone to fill his spot in the lineup and a Troy Murphy is better than nothing as a consolation prize. Like Cleveland, Phoenix traded away their 2010 first round pick, so there is no immediate value for the Pacers in dealing with Phoenix unless it's for a 2010 second round pick as well as a future first round pick.
Milwaukee was rumored to be interested in Murphy's services at the trade deadline this season. It was said they wanted to part with Kenny Thomas' expiring deal, but that is of no use to them anymore. It wouldn't be out of the question to swap a 2010 first rounder and Michael Redd for Troy Murphy. Redd no longer has much value, but his contract expires (should he decide to exercise his final year) in 2011, so the Pacers wouldn't be on the hook with him any longer than they would with Murphy.
New Orleans may not be much farther from contention than their record indicated. Injuries and coaching changes tore their season apart. When healthy, this is a playoff team in the west. New Orleans ranked near the bottom in team rebounding (25th) and could use a boost in that area. Offensively, they have no one to take pressure off David West. Murphy would be a great addition to a team looking for more scoring options. New Orleans' only 2010 pick is a first round lottery pick (#11), so it may require the Pacers to take on a lengthy contract (Emeka Okafor) if they want a shot at the Hornets' pick.
T.J. Ford - For all his issues, Ford is still one of the quickest point guards in the league. He has the ability to create his own shot, and if he's on the right team, can find the open player in transition (before coming to Indiana, he never finished a season with an average of below 6 assists per game). What some take away from his two-year stint on the Pacers is the inability to be a starting PG in the NBA. I believe he is much better in a half-court style offense. The question becomes, does Ford still command a first round draft pick? There are only two, but here are the teams that should be interested in T.J. Ford:
Los Angeles Lakers and Miami
The Lakers are getting man-handled by the Thunder at the point guard position right now. Ford isn't huge, but he's quick. All the Lakers need from a point guard is to stay in front of their man defensively and to pass the ball to Kobe, Pau, or Bynum. Ford would be a good enough upgrade over Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, and Shannon Brown to put the them back at the top of the NBA. He's only on the books for one more season, so it wouldn't hurt them in the long run. The Lakers don't possess a first round pick in the 2010 draft, so any trades would be for a second rounder pick or a future first round choice. Should Indiana snag a third, second round pick, they could exchange any combination of them with an expiring deal or two for a first round pick - especially from a team with multiple first rounder picks (Minnesota, Memphis, New Jersey, Washington, and Oklahoma City).
Miami was killed by not having a solid point guard all season. Dwyane Wade had to do it all. If the Heat were to get someone who could run the offense, Wade would be even more deadly running through screens. Miami is focused on doing whatever they can to keep Wade in South Beach. The 18th pick in this year's draft doesn't have a whole lot of value for them for the 2010/2011 season. If they are able to clear the books by shipping Beasley away, they'd be more inclined to take on Ford's final year of his contract. Even if the Pacers had to take the salaries of either James Jones (4 years, $19.2 mil) or Daequan Cook (3 years, $6.6 mil) in a trade that involved a top-20 draft pick, it would be beneficial.
The rest of the Pacers roster presents no real trade value if it just involves draft picks. These players would have to be packaged together to trade for other players. That's a whole different FanPost altogether. The draft is only a few months away. It will be interesting to see what Bird has in store for this offseason of change!