Today, December 15, marks the beginning of the NBA’s unofficial trade season when players signed as free agents over the summer are officially eligible to be swapped (i.e. Al Jefferson, Aaron Brooks, and Kevin Seraphin).
With the trade deadline (Feb. 23) still a little over two months away, the Indiana Pacers (13-13) sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference’s jumbled playoff picture, but are also only 1.5 games back of third.
After a maddeningly inconsistent start to the season, the Pacers seem to have found a slightly more comfortable groove on offense with Glenn Robinson III seamlessly filling the void left by Monta Ellis (groin injury) in the starting lineup. The 22-year-old’s rapid emergence has been somewhat of a double-edged sword for Indiana, underscoring the redundant aspects of the assembled roster while also shining a bright light on some of its more obvious holes.
Robinson III’s length, athleticism, and shooting make for a cleaner fit next to Jeff Teague’s playmaking, but his promotion as a starter requires a lot of rotation finagling in order to be able to continue utilizing him as an interchangeable forward next to C.J. Miles in small bursts off the bench.
The downside of relying more heavily on small-ball is that it places greater pressure on the team’s streaky shooting and up-and-down defense to compensate for the drop off on the glass, as was the case Wednesday evening against the Miami Heat.
In addition to Indiana’s need for a versatile, reserve stretch-shooter and/or backup rim protector, Larry Bird will have to conclude whether his team’s bad losses to Brooklyn, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Miami or quality wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and Charlotte Hornets are more representative of the team he can expect to be here in late April and whether that team will be enough to entice Paul George to stay put long-term.
A recent discussion between Vertical Front Office Insider Bobby Marks and The Vertical Podcast’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided a few clues as to the current thinking of Indiana’s brass.
Paul George is not available:
“I know teams have been calling Indiana and asking about Paul George and the answer is absolutely, positively no (to a trade),” Wojnarowski said of Indiana’s stance on the two-way star. “‘He’s not available, there’s no conversation to be had, don’t even make offers to us. We’re not moving Paul George.'”
Unless George demands to be moved, there is no reason for the Pacers to be hasty before next season’s trade deadline. He can’t opt out until the summer of 2017-18 and finding equal value in return for the player he morphs into annually during the playoffs is an improbable mission.
But, as much as patience should be exercised with George, Indiana’s front office is on the clock when it comes to the team’s role players.
“Guys want to play with guys,” George told the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor. “I think I have a better chance to accomplish that given Reggie and the era that he was in. My only goal is playing for a championship. As long as we’re competitive and I have something to do with that, I’m happy.”
Kevin Durant’s exodus from the Western Conference Finals-eliminated Oklahoma City Thunder dealt competitive small-market teams a sobering championship-or-bust wake-up call: Mediocrity, perhaps more than ever before, is not an option for teams hoping to retain homegrown stars.
The Pacers are committed to building around Paul George AND Myles Turner:
More interesting is that the Pacers sound as committed to Myles Turner as they are to Paul George.
“Their mindset in Indiana is to continue to try to build around Paul George and Myles Turner and try to find a combination around them that will get Paul to want to re-sign and stay there,” said Wojnarowski.
The 20-year-old has shown an intermittent tendency to play small against more imposing frames in the paint (i.e. Hassan Whiteside) and still needs to develop as a pick-and-roll defender, but holding tight to his upside along with the final two years of his rookie deal and hypothetical multi-year extension is the more prudent move when compared to acquiring an established star potentially on short-term rent.
“The sky’s the limit for him because the game is moving towards bigs that are dynamic, and he’s dynamic,” Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger told the Star-Telegram’s Dwain Price of Turner. “He can block some shots, he can handle the ball a little bit, he shoots a little bit, posts up a little bit, and you’ve got to be versatile and position-less.”
Per Basketball Reference, Turner’s stat line against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday marked only the sixteenth time in NBA history that a forward-center blocked four shots and made four three-pointers in the same game.
“Almost everybody else” on the roster is available:
“That being said,” Wojnarowski explained after confirming Indiana’s intention to rebuild around George and Turner. “I think the Pacers are very much open for business with almost everybody else.”
That the Pacers would leave no stone unturned attempting to upgrade the roster is obvious given some of the aforementioned roster flaws as well as George’s timeline. Who exactly the team’s targets are and how they could go about acquiring those targets currently remains cloaked in the shroud of trade deadline mystery.
The high volume scorer was linked to Indiana again in passing by Wojnarowski while he was discussing players who could be on the move.
Larry Bird’s preseason about-face regarding his belief that Paul George is best suited as a shooting guard after publicly calling for him to make the move to power fauxward the season before could in part explain the team’s rumored interest in Gay.
“I always looked at him as a two guard,” Bird told the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor. “If Paul’s playing the two, he’s going to score points, but not in the way that Reggie did. To me, it’s unfortunate that we had to play him at the three all the time because I think he could have been a hell of a two guard, maybe better than a three.”
FIBA competition cannot be directly compared to the NBA, but it was evident in Rio that George, who has a tendency to be sloppy with the ball and struggles to punish smaller guards on the block, was more at home finishing offense as the focal point of the defensive-oriented second unit than he was initiating offense beside Kyrie Irving as a starter.
Melding Gay’s mid-range oriented game and high-usage (25.0%) with the starting lineup mid-season also has the potential to be more complicated than merely standing pat with Glenn Robinson III’s three-point shooting touch (39.5%) as a fifth option.
However, if he is amenable to a sixth man role, shifting C.J. Miles to backup small forward and attempting to replicate Sacramento’s most successful small-ball lineup with Gay at four beside Omri Casspi could be a boon.
But, doing so would require sacrifice from Gay, and the Pacers likely lack the assets to acquire him unless the Kings have altered their stance on Ellis or Stuckey. Not to mention, $13.3 million would be a lot to commit to a player better suited to coming off the bench who has a $14.2 million player option in 2017-18.
Gay has also drawn interest from the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, both of which could offer the 30-year-old more of a starring role on the wing.