This article started off as a vanity project: Could I find the perfect move for the Pacers before the February 8 trade deadline? My research began on Jan. 9 and by the following day I was frustrated. I couldn’t find an available small forward to bolster their defense nor anyone willing to trade for Thaddeus Young that made sense.
By Wednesday I gave up on finding the perfect trade and instead established three guiding principles that I used to determine why the Pacers shouldn’t make a trade.
Swing for the fences or don’t swing at all?
Pacer fans can admit barring some massive injury wave to Boston, Cleveland, Toronto and Washington they aren’t making it the finals. There is no player or trade available that immediately makes the Pacers contenders. Any deal that they make at the trade deadline has to be with their future in mind.
If an all-star level player becomes available the Pacers should attempt to trade for him. But to me there’s two...ONLY TWO...all-star caliber players possibly available that would improve Indiana’s current roster: Kemba Walker and Mike Conley. These moves are contingent on both Charlotte and Memphis going through a complete rebuild. Indiana would also have to give up at least one first-round pick and T.J. Leaf along with absorbing a bad contract.
Walker isn’t the best fit for the Pacers. He’s still not a traditional point guard and his defense isn’t an improvement over Darren Collison, who he would replace. But he’s a fantastic playmaker.
He’s similar to Victor Oladipo but with a slightly worse ability to get to the rim and a much better ability to make passes in the lane. Watch this beautiful drop-off pass he makes to Dwight Howard:
Indiana currently lacks a number two scorer behind Oladipo, which is a huge part of the reason they lost four games in a row without him. When you add Walker to Oladipo and an emerging Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers become interesting.
Conley, on the other hand, is a perfect fit for the Pacers if he can stay healthy. Over the past two seasons He’s played 56 games in 2016 and 69 games in 2017, and only 12 so far this season. Conley also has a massive contract -- he’s the seventh highest paid player in the league, owed at least $30 million a year for the next three seasons.
Conley can bring some of the same playmaking ability as Walker but with much better defense because of his size. Just watch the highlights from his game four against the Spurs last season:
Last season Conley was sixth in the NBA among point guards with a real plus-minus of 4.47 - nearly two points ahead of Walker, who was ninth. But Conley’s on the other side of 30 and most likely isn’t available in any trade.
Don’t waste cap space or draft pick?
The Pacers are in a dead heat with Philadelphia and New York for the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. In theory, adding one player who makes Indiana marginally better, allowing them to win one extra game, could be the difference between making the playoffs or not.
But I’m here to say that no matter how cheap the deal is Indiana shouldn’t do it. The Pacers can trade their second-round pick with the reverse protections from their trade with Brooklyn but they shouldn’t do it. In the long run that pick is more valuable than any single player they’d get.
The other option Indiana has is to absorb a bad contract by using their cap space and expiring contracts in exchange for a pick. Brooklyn made this type of trade for Demarre Carroll to help the Raptors clear cap space in return for a first-round pick.
Right now having cap space is rare and extremely valuable. The Pacers have a move to make with their cap space... I would just hate to see them waste it on a bad contract and a mid-20’s first-round pick.
Trade Thad Young for a second pick now or after the season?
This has more to do with the emergence of Sabonis rather than the decline of Young. Over Sabonis’ last four games he’s averaging 20.3 points per game, 6.0 rebounds and 67.3 percent shooting. He has now scored double digits in 26 games and has eight double-doubles so far this season.
On the other hand, Young has only scored double digits twice more than Sabonis despite averaging almost eight more minutes per game. He’s also had some miserable games as of late: in three of his last seven games he’s had a plus-minus of -34, -33 and -22.
There is no doubt in my mind that Young will pick up his $13.7 million option for the 2018-19 season. He’ll turn 30 this offseason and with limited cap space across the league, he won’t find a team that would pay as much money as his option.
The Pacers are probably better off with the cap space instead of his contract, especially if he’s unwilling to accept a bench role next season. If Leaf emerges as a rotation player next season Young’s role will shrink even more. Nate McMillan has even talked about how he’s grooming Sabonis to basically replace Young.
While Young still has value his timeline doesn’t fit that of the current Pacers. When he was originally traded to Indiana it made sense -- they were in “win now” mode with Paul George. There are plenty of teams desperate just to make the playoffs next season that could use a veteran of his talent.
If Young is traded, the Pacers can clear $13.7 million in cap space to sign a backup center or sign a big name free agent while also allowing Leaf and Sabonis to get more playing time next season.