The rumor mill is doing what it does best - churning. What once could be described as all quiet on the Pacers' trade front now has seemingly transformed into some very loud rumblings heading into the final days before the February 20th deadline. Since the beginning of the season, the general consensus around the NBA community seemed to be that the Pacers would be holding on to Danny Granger's approximately $14M expiring contract in order to ensure there would be enough space to resign Lance Stephenson. Well, apparently, everyone should have listened to Pacers' President of Basketball Operations, Larry Bird, when, during a Q&A with Pacers.com's Mark Monteith, he dissuaded outsiders from trying to predict the future:
Q: "The question that gets asked the most by fans now is, how do you keep Lance? Are you confident you can re-sign Lance? That you'll have the money to do it?"
A: ..."If you look at our books, how does anyone know what's going to happen in the summer. How do they know we're not going to make trades or have more money or less money. We will try to sign Lance, but I don't worry about it. If Lance is not here, we'll get somebody else."
Well, depending upon which major news outlet one believes, the Pacers may be looking to utilize Granger's expiring contract as trade bait. Per Fox Sports' Sam Amico, Granger's contract is drawing interest around the league:
"Pacers forward Danny Granger, another impending free agent, is drawing lots of interest as the trade deadline approaches, league sources said."
While this report seems to indicate that rival teams are, perhaps, clamoring for the phone in order to make offers to Larry Bird for the Pacers' former All-Star, Grantland's Zach Lowe provides another narrative which alludes to the notion that the Pacers may be shopping Granger:
"Salary-based desperation isn't what it used to be. Expirings like Trevor Ariza, Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva, Paul Pierce, and Danny Granger aren't the carrots they once were. Washington and Indiana have been active on this front, per several league sources, but have found little traction so far. Trading Granger will be especially tough for the Pacers, since they cannot take on even a single dollar of money for next season without jeopardizing their ability to re-sign the terrifying (in a good way!) Lance Stephenson."
So which is it? Is Granger "drawing lots of interest," or is his contract one of many expiring deals that is failing to live up to its dangling carrot reputation?
The answer to that question probably exists somewhere in the gray area of GM speak. Regardless of whether the Pacers are just listening to calls, actively shopping some of their assets, or none of the above, Amico also provided a hint about what the Pacers, if active, may be trying to acquire at the deadline:
"The Pacers may be among the teams who will make a play for Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry at the Feb. 20 trade deadline, according to several reports. But the more the Raptors win, the more it looks as if they will hang on to Lowry. It's an interesting situation, because Lowry is a free agent at season's end."
In the final year of his contract, Lowry's salary is worth approximately $6.1M. Even if this rumor is accurate, what exactly the Pacers would be willing to sacrifice in order to acquire the Raptor's point guard remains unknown. Certainly, any rumored deal that would include a member of the Pacers' core seems unlikely given that Larry Bird voiced his distaste for blockbuster deals earlier this season during a Q&A with Pacers.com's Mark Monteith:
Q: "I was going to ask if your roster is set."
A: "It's never set. If you can do something that makes them better, you do it. Yesterday we went over every team and picked out some targets. We don't know what teams are going to do with a lot of their players. I'm not into making big trades, especially with our core group, but if we can pick up a player who can help us, we will do that."
The possibility of Lowry donning a Pacers' jersey becomes even slimmer when taking various reports from ESPN's Marc Stein into account, which indicate that the Raptors are reluctant to part with their All-Star snubbed, floor general:
Trade rumble: Sense around league remains Toronto more likely to trade Kyle Lowry than keep him to prevent losing asset for nothing. But ...— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 27, 2014
But Knicks said to be investigating all PG options since they're convinced top target Kyle Lowry is NOT available between now and Thursday— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 17, 2014
Of course, in typical trade deadline fashion, the trade chatter did not stop with just the possibility, or improbability, of moving Granger and/or acquiring Lowry. Rather, when Grantland's Zach Lowe confirmed he had heard rumblings that the Celtics' assist savant, Rajon Rondo, could be had in exchange for two future first round draft picks, speculation, once again, surfaced that the Pacers might be in the market for a true point guard:
If #Celtics truly want 2 unprotected first-round picks for Rondo, I'd imagine Larry Bird has already called offering that and more.— Chris Sheridan (@sheridanhoops) February 17, 2014
Granted, this is, obviously, nothing more than conjecture, but, as a result of the initial rumor, Sheridan did later place Rondo's name on his list of players most likely to be traded with the following commentary:
"And if there was one team where Rondo would put a title contender over the top, it would be the Indiana Pacers, who could trade Danny Granger's expiring contract and give Ainge three unprotected draft picks in 2016, 2018 and 2020 (their 2014 pick is going to Phoenix as part of the Luis Scola acquisition.)"
Chris Sheridan is just one in the long list of many analysts who have suggested that the Pacers pursue the Celtics' dynamic point guard. On the surface, acquiring the four-time All-Star makes a lot of sense for Indiana. Rondo has led the league in assists the past two seasons; whereas, the Pacers... well, as a team, they rank 23rd in the league. During his year off to rehab his surgically repaired acl, the Celtics' captain made great strides in improving his jump shot. In fact, according to CSNNE's A. Sherrod Blakely, in the past three games, Rondo is averaging 14 points and 11 assists on 61.3% shooting (36.7% from three, 85.7% from midrange, 69.2% from the paint). More impressively, during the Celtics most recent game against the San Antonio Spurs, employee No. 9 drilled four of his five three point attempts.
Sounds like a great addition for a contender right?
Well, the only problem with this piece of speculation is that acquiring the final two years of Rondo's $11.9M contract would most likely put an end to Lance Stephenson's tenure as a Pacer - a sacrifice the Pacers are, obviously, unlikely to make.
So, what should be surmised from all of these trade rumblings?
The rumor mill is going to keep on keeping on until Thursday. Conventional wisdom says that trades are always far more likely not to materialize than to actually be consummated. Even so, there is no real way to predict exactly what the Pacers may do between now and Thursday. For now, it is probably best to take Larry Bird at his above quoted word: "...if we can pick up a player who can help us, we will do that."