The Pacers have spent the better part of two seasons collecting chips. They started with trading for a misused young center, then signing a bunch of veterans to team-friendly expiring contracts and finally drafting a point guard with the potential to be the steal of the draft.
It’s time to take all of those chips, push them all into the center and make a bet on something big.
From the near 20-year Larry Bird era to the current era of Kevin Pritchard, the Pacers have repeated the same cycle. Undervalued talent turns into a truly good player who eventually reaches a level just below successful only to be knocked down by a tragic moment (say an injury, or a brawl) and never recover.
Indiana should be tired of this cycle.
Think about it. If both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving leave -- for New York and Los Angeles, respectfully -- we’ll officially enter a new era in basketball. The Warriors would no longer be a juggernaut; the Celtics would be severely handicapped. Yes, the Knicks might rise, but it wouldn’t be a guaranteed thing like the Warriors currently are.
That new era of basketball would require a new kind of thinking.
The Pacers could sit idly by and let Domantas Sabonis and Aaron Holiday turn into decently good NBA players, who -- if very lucky -- might reach their primes, just as Victor Oladipo has one or two great years left. Or they could risk it all and turn the two into players who give the team a shot at a championship.
Sabonis and Holiday might seem like a steep price to pay but it’s the kind of offer that could pry a Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley or some other unhappy superstar sure to ask for a trade, away from their existing team. Combine those two with a couple first-round picks and some cap relief, and it could top most of the league’s best offers once the Lakers give up a bounty for Anthony Davis.
Give the Pacers a Big Three of Turner, Oladipo and any other All-Star you can find, and I believe that team could compete with any of the best teams in East.
I want to be clear, I’m not necessarily advocating for a trade right now (although I can’t see a downside to it). Frankly, as terrible as this sounds, once Oladipo got hurt this season became nothing more than opportunity to see the value of the young guys.
But I digress. Between this year’s trade deadline and free agency, something has to happen.
The Pacers have been smart; they’ve been playing the long game. Two summers ago they made arguably one the best trades in league history under the circumstances. Think about all the bad superstar trades in the history of the NBA, and you’ll realize the Pacers are one of the few teams to come out better than before.
Oladipo’s ascendance accelerated the team’s timetable. Combined with all the short-term contracts they’ve given out, the Pacers are in a position to take on a big salary. They have the valuable young assets that teams are looking for. It’s time to stop using all those things to produce a 45-50 win team that is only good in the regular season.
Since San Antonio’s 2014 championship, fans have been claiming -- and for good reason, mind you -- that the league is rigged against small markets. (Unless the best player in the league was born in your city.) Lebron left Cleveland for Los Angeles, Durant left Oklahoma City for San Francisco, Jimmy Butler left for Philadelphia, Kawhi left for Toronto (and soon to be L.A.), Davis most likely leaves for L.A.
If the Pacers can really build a Big Three in Indiana, they can give hope to all the small markets out there that it’s possible to stay competitive, draft well, make smart moves, lose a superstar, recover and still be one of the teams that competes for an NBA championship.
The only thing?
As of now, nobody has proved that’s possible.