Larry Bird made passing reference to Brandon Rush today when speaking to the media, but that one sentence said a lot.
Bird has given conflicting impressions of Rush over the past year and a half. Twice Rush has been slated to leave town in a trade that fell through at the last second. On the other hand, the Pacers picked up his option last year to bring him back for the upcoming season, the final year of his rookie contract.
Meanwhile on the court, Rush has started, played heavy minutes off the bench and been buried in the rotation. He flashes signs of getting it, but never sustains a consistent level of production to be relied on for very long. At the same time, Bird and the Pacers finally found what they were looking for from Rush, although it came in the form of Paul George.
The handwriting has been on the wall, in bold colors, that Larry Bird was not relying on Rush as part of his young core of players going forward. But today, when discussing the team's salary cap situation, Bird coupled Rush with James Posey as merely a cap number offering the Pacers additional flexibility next year.
So why did the Pacers pick up his option?
Having Rush in the final year of his rookie contract makes him more valuable right now. He can still play a variety of roles as a support player, if needed on the roster. More importantly, his expiring contract makes him a great option to facilitate a trade.
Rush was not the problem holding up the trades his name was tied to over the past couple of years. He remains a low risk option that can help make a deal work.
The Pacers already have enough roster turnover to deal with this offseason, so consider Rush's situation like stashing away some cash (or cap space) in a savings account. If they really need it, the Pacers can tap into it for a deal, but in the meantime Rush can fill a roster spot in the final year of his deal, fighting for his NBA future.
Just don't expect that future to be in Indiana.