After outperforming everyone’s expectations - including those of the team’s President of Basketball Operations - the Indiana Pacers have some of the most flexibility of any team in the league. Perhaps some of the most promise, too.
Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers’ front office will soon, if not already, have their hands full with a multitude of off-season decisions.
“We’re looking at all the options,” he said. ”Do we go big-game fishing this summer, which will cause us to lose some of the players we have here? Or do we keep this basic team together, maybe add a few peripheral pieces, and then have $50-70 million in cap space the following year?”
Each option holds a fair argument.
Victor Oladipo led the Pacers to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, and the blue and gold were 51-31 in games where Oladipo was on the court. Should Pritchard keep changes to a minimum and allow the current roster to continue developing both their skill and chemistry with another off-season?
Maybe the Pacers would like to shorten the gap between themselves and other young teams like Boston and Philadelphia. Should the Pacers dip into their bank account and sign a quality free agent such as Aaron Gordon or - dare I say - Paul George?
Or maybe the Pacers decide to save up even more, and prepare for a better free agent class in 2019.
They could also look to the trade market.
“The trade market could be better than ever,” Pritchard said. “There’s not many teams with cap space this summer and when that happens normally teams get aggressive with trades to change their team. How aggressive we’ll be, I don’t know yet.”
In case Kevin Pritchard and the Indiana Pacers decide to be aggressors in the trade market, here are five potential players in no particular order that they should consider.
Otto Porter Jr. - Washington Wizards
31.6 min, 14.7 pts, 6.4 reb, 2.0 ast, 1.5 stl, 1.0 tov, 18.3 PER, 58.1 eFG%
Bojan Bogdanovic had a career year in his first season with the Pacers, and he added one of his best defensive seasons to his resume. But he still wasn’t a good defender. He did a decent job on LeBron James in the playoffs, but his -1.9 defensive box plus/minus and 112 defensive rating for the year confirm what we saw for most of the season.
Kevin Pritchard may look for an upgrade at the position, and Otto Porter Jr. would be just that. Porter would be able to match Bogey’s scoring numbers while bringing a larger - and longer - defensive presence. The soon-to-be 25-year-old posted a +1.2 defensive box plus/minus and 107 defensive rating this past season.
By no means is Porter a lockdown defender, but he is versatile in the sense that he can guard multiple positions. His length would fit well to the Pacers defensive system, and he could help ignite fast break points off of steals and deflections.
Offensively, Porter outperformed Bogdanovic at what he does best - shoot. The Wizards SF shot the three 4.1 times per game at a 44.1% clip. Bogdanovic shot 4.8 threes per game at a 40.2% clip. Porter would be an upgrade over Bogey on both sides of the ball, and he gets paid as if he would be too.
This past summer, Porter signed a $106.5m/4yr max deal, and that may be the only reason why the Wizards would consider trading him. The Porter, Beal, and Wall trio would be owed $92.1m in 2019-20, and some believe the Wizards have a chance to sign DeMarcus Cousins this summer. Luckily for the Wizards, the Pacers have room for Porter’s contract for now. The question is whether Kevin Pritchard believes Porter is worth the investment.
Rumblings from last summer suggest the Pacers front office may believe he is. There were rumors that the Wizards and Pacers were interested in a potential sign-and-trade centered around Porter and Paul George. However, the Pacers may not want such a large contract on their payroll while also sending away promising talent and/or draft picks.
Pacers Receive: Otto Porter Jr.
Wizards Receive: Domantas Sabonis, Bojan Bogdanovic, Al Jefferson
The Wizards need to shed salary if they would like a shot at a marquee free agent this summer or avoid paying the luxury tax for a team that hardly made the playoffs. Sabonis ($6.1m/2yrs) could step in and start from day one if Washington is ready to move on from Marcin Gortat. Jefferson is included simply to agree to the salary rules of trades under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but he would likely be cut by the Wizards before he even gets to Washington.
The Pacers would get a two-way small forward without trading a starter, and they solve the potentially awkward situation with two young centers who are due for big paydays in the next few years. Pacers fans would be devastated to see Sabonis go, but that’s the price you pay for a top 10 small forward in the NBA.
Trey Lyles - Denver Nuggets
19.1 min, 9.9 pts, 4.8 reb, 1.2 ast, 0.4 stl, 0.8 tov, 17.9 PER, 56.6 eFG%
Caitlin Cooper, an Indy Cornrows writer (and one of the best Pacers writers out there), noticed a significant statement or two by Kevin Pritchard in his post-season press conference.
“If you had a real shooting four, a real stretch-four to put out there with the same team,” Pritchard said of being able to surround Oladipo with shooters at the end of games, “It’s tough to defend.”
He also added, “If you look at Thad, he can make some shots, but that’s not his thing.”
Whether the Pacers’ President is looking to replace Young as a starter is unknown, especially when you consider his high praise for Young as a glue-guy and leader. Regardless, it seems Pritchard would like to add more shooting to the power forward position.
T.J. Leaf, in a limited sample size, shot 42.9% from beyond the arc this past season - making him one of the team’s best shooters on a percentage basis. However, with only one season under his belt, he may not be ready to take on significant minutes in year two.
Trey Lyles should be a familiar name to many Pacers fans as he went to high school in Indianapolis. As a freshman at Arsenal Tech, the big recruit originally committed to Indiana University. However, he decommitted in his junior year and made the decision to attend the University of Kentucky his senior year. Lyles was also awarded Mr. Basketball over James Blackmon Jr. and Trevon Bluiett.
At just 22-years-old, Lyles may be exactly what Kevin Pritchard is looking for in a “real stretch four.” His youth would align with the young core the Pacers have built, and Lyles has the potential to eventually be a starter in today’s NBA.
The 6’ 10” forward came off the bench this past year for the Nuggets, and he knocked down threes at a 38.1% clip on 3.0 attempts per game. For reference, Thad Young shot 2.2 three-point attempts at a 32.0% rate. Still, Young played more minutes than Lyles, so it makes more sense to compare the two on a level playing field. If the two played 36 minutes a piece, Young averaged 2.5 attempts, and Lyles averaged 5.6.
Trey Lyles is also two inches taller than Young, and he averages almost two more rebounds per 36 minutes. Lyles certainly fits the definition of a stretch-four. His shooting ability, rebounding, and youth make the cake. His experience playing basketball in Indiana? The icing.
Pacers Receive: Trey Lyles
Nuggets Receive: Bojan Bogdanovic, Pacers 23rd Draft Pick (2018)
The Nuggets get a floor spacer in Bogdanovic, and a likely starter if Wilson Chandler decides to leave Denver. In addition, they add a first round pick that can be used on a player or via trade to move up in the draft.
The Pacers get their “real stretch four” in Lyles and a potential starter in the years to come. Moving Bogdanovic would create a need to acquire a small forward which could come from free agency or another trade.
Kemba Walker - Charlotte Hornets
34.3 min, 22.1 pts, 3.1 reb, 5.6 ast, 1.1 stl, 2.2 tov, 20.6 PER, 51.6 eFG%
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Charlotte Hornets made two-time All-Star Kemba Walker available at the trade deadline this past season. Although ex-GM Rich Cho was in charge at the time, new GM Mitch Kupchak will have to ponder the same question as his predecessor: Is it time to start over?
Kupchak has already fired head coach Steve Clifford, and now he is looking at potentially paying the luxury tax on a team that only amassed 36 wins and missed the playoffs for a second straight year.
Walker has just one year left on his contract at only $12 million - making him one of the best deals in the league. If traded, Walker is likely joined by another teammate such as Nicolas Batum ($76.7m/3yrs) or Marvin Williams ($29.1m/2yrs) to clear more cap space and accelerate a rebuild.
Remember, Kevin Pritchard drafted Nicolas Batum for the Portland Trailblazers in 2008. However, Batum is well overpaid, so Williams would seem like the better option here for the Pacers - especially considering Pritchard’s continued search for a true stretch four. Although almost 32-years-old, Williams has proven to be consistent from beyond the arc as he has converted over 40% of his threes in two of the last three seasons.
This is no slight to Darren Collison. He had one of the best seasons in his nine-year career, and he played a large role in the success of the Pacers’ season. It’s just that, you know, Kemba Walker is a two-time All-Star and is still only 28 years old. A Walker-Oladipo duo would make for one of the nastiest backcourts in the league. Oladipo has a fan in Walker as well.
“He was overshadowed (in Oklahoma City) by the MVP of the NBA (Russell Westbrook),” said Walker this January. “Traded here, I knew that Vic would have more opportunities to showcase his talent. He changed his body, the shape he was in. I’ve always been a big fan of Vic’s game. Being around him in Paris, I could just tell. And I was right.”
“Vic’s a good person. When you’re a good dude around the league, everyone knows it. People are happy for you when good things happen. A lot of people respect him.”
Pacers Receive: Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams
Hornets Receive: Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, TJ Leaf, Pacers 23rd Draft Pick (2018)
The Hornets take Williams’ salary off the books and take on two one-year contracts, a player on his rookie contract, and a draft pick. A capable point guard, floor spacer, young player, and a draft pick may be tough to pass for Kupchak and the Hornets. They also could use their two first round picks to move up higher in the draft.
The Pacers get another All-Star to pair alongside Victor Oladipo and would only have one year to convince him to stay in Indiana. Pritchard also gets his stretch four on a less-than-ideal contract.
Pacers Receive: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum
Hornets Receive: Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, Al Jefferson, TJ Leaf, Pacers 23rd Draft Pick (2018)
The Hornets are able to get rid of the worst contract on their payroll as they pair Batum with Walker. They take on three one-year contracts (Jefferson likely gets cut immediately), a young player, and a draft pick. Again, Charlotte could use their two first round picks to move up in the draft.
The Pacers get an All-Star point guard and a chance to convince him that Indiana should be his home for multiple years. They also get a capable small forward who somehow convinced Michael Jordan that he is worth $120 million but has proved he can be a decent two-way wing.
Tobias Harris - Los Angeles Clippers
33.4 min, 18.6 pts, 5.5 reb, 2.4 ast, 0.9 stl, 1.3 tov, 17.1 PER, 53.5 eFG%
Here’s another stretch four option. Harris has spent time with four teams (Bucks, Magic, Pistons, and Clippers) since entering the NBA seven years ago, and the main reason he has been traded that many times is likely due to his poor defense. However, he is versatile on the offensive end and is one of the best offensive one-on-one players for his position.
Harris can score with his back to the basket, facing up his defender, and from beyond the arc. He averaged 5.6 three point attempts per game last season and converted on 41.1% of them.
This would be an interesting move for the Pacers because they would score a few more points on the offensive end while giving up a few more points on the defensive end as compared to Thaddeus Young in the lineup. There’s a chance that even if the Pacers’ front office likes Harris, they just don’t think the switch is worth it.
After losing Chris Paul and trading away Blake Griffin, it sure seems like the Clippers are blowing it up. Doc Rivers does not have a single player on their roster that is untouchable (except maybe his son), so Harris could find himself on his fifth NBA team before long.
The 6’ 9” forward has just one year left on his contract for $14.8 million. This means the Pacers would not have to move a whole lot outside of a first round pick for Harris, who will turn 26 in July.
Pacers Receive: Tobias Harris, Clippers Second Round Pick (2020)
Clippers Receive: TJ Leaf, Al Jefferson, Pacers 23rd Draft Pick (2018)
The Clippers probably win this trade as they get their second first round pick and another young stretch four in Leaf for shipping out a player that may leave next year anyway and a future secod round pick. Like all of the other trade ideas in this article, Jefferson unfortunately would get cut.
The Pacers receive a stretch four that is both a dynamic scorer and ready to play 30 minutes per game right now. They also get a second round pick that may be in the 30s if the Clippers finish in the bottom of the league.
Terry Rozier - Boston Celtics
25.9 min, 11.3 pts, 4.7 reb, 2.9 ast, 1.0 stl, 1.0 tov, 15.1 PER, 49.1 eFG%
Have you been watching Scary Terry these last few weeks? If you didn’t know who the Celtics point guard was at this time last year, you know now.
After filling in the for the injured Kyrie Irving, Rozier has proven that he’s capable of being a starter in this league. The 24-year-old University of Louisville product has just one year left on his contract before he becomes a restricted free agent, and Boston may not be able to afford him if they decide to re-sign Irving, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, and/or Jaylen Brown within the coming years.
If Celtics GM Danny Ainge would like to get a return on Rozier, this off-season is the perfect time to do it. However, Rozier’s restricted free agent status in 2019 could cause concern for Kevin Pritchard, since restricted free agents are often overpaid. In the event that the Pacers trade for Rozier, they may have to match another team’s offer sheet the following summer - or see him walk.
Rozier’s numbers above are average at best. However, he is only 24-years-old and his playoff numbers are much improved (stats include the series against the Bucks and 76ers): 37.3 min, 18.2 pts, 5.5 reb, 5.8 ast, 1.2 stl, 1.3 tov, 19.5 PER, and 53.6 eFG%. In fact, he’s been so good that some writers around the league believe Ainge should consider trading Irving for another star and allowing Rozier to take over as the starting point guard.
While Rozier continues growing on the offensive end, he’s been a plus-defender for Brad Stevens and the Celtics all season long. Rozier would certainly be an upgrade in this department as Collison struggles defensively at times.
His play thus far in the playoffs will likely lead to multiple offers - driving up his trade value.
Pacers Receive: Terry Rozier
Celtics Receive: Darren Collison, Pacers 23rd Draft Pick (2018)
The Celtics get a great backup in Darren Collison, who has one year left on his contract. Ainge also gets another first round pick to play with, while maintaining financial flexibility.
The Pacers get their new starting point guard for the future - a young scoring guard who plays with a chip on his shoulder.
Kawhi Leonard - San Antonio Spurs
23.3 mins, 16.2 pts, 4.7 reb, 2.3 ast, 2.0 stl, 1.8 tov, 26.0 PER, 51.8 eFG%
Okay, I lied. There are six potential trade targets in this article! However, this one counts as a bonus - mostly because it’s simply a stretch that Kawhi Leonard will be a Pacer for a second time.
While it may seem unlikely, it makes a lot of sense for the Pacers. I would guess that it would make sense for many teams around the league. But seriously, Kawhi Leonard fits the exact description of a target player that Kevin Pritchard explained to Dan Dakich recently when talking about whether or not Pritchard would consider Paul George as a free agent.
“I would want to know first that he would fit us. We’re different now, Dan. One of the things we’re about, we don’t care about big names, we don’t care about big personalities, we don’t care about big brands. What we care about is being humble.”
Sure sounds a lot like the former Finals MVP.
Leonard’s group, on the other hand, seems to want him in a bigger market. As reported by ESPN, those in Leonard’s circle would like him in a city such as Los Angeles, Boston, or Philadelphia.
How much of what was reported by ESPN and others is true? How much of the talking is being done by Leonard himself or his group? I don’t know. Maybe Pritchard doesn’t either.
But it’s worth finding out.
Leonard will soon turn 27 years old with two years left on his contract - the second one being a player option. While his statistics above may not seem worthy of a premier player, it’s important to note that he only played nine games this year due to injury. He is arguably the best defender in the NBA and averaged 25 ppg the year before this one.
If Leonard would commit to staying in Indiana, the two-way small forward is worth trading a key piece to the Pacers’ future. If not, do not even think about it, Mr. Pritchard.
Pacers Receive: Kawhi Leonard
Spurs Receive: Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovich, Al Jefferson, Pacers 23rd Draft Pick (2018)
The Spurs don’t get as much of a return as they want due to Leonard likely opting out of his player option in 2019. But they get a young, modern day center in Myles Turner who can spread the floor and protect the rim. R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich also get a small forward who just had the best year of his career and shot over 40% from three. Lastly, they get a first round pick that could be used to couple with their own pick to trade up.
The Pacers get arguably the best two-way player in the NBA. They get a compliment for Oladipo, and Domantas Sabonis becomes the team’s future at center.
Follow me on Twitter at @EvanOnSBNation.