Victor Oladipo is suddenly the old veteran sage in the Pacers locker room after the first official day of free agency revealed a younger and more dynamic playing rotation.
Oladipo turned 27 in early May and while he was already a team leader with a strong voice in the locker room, there were also valuable vets like Thad Young and Darren Collison to lean on for wisdom in trying times. In fact, two years ago, the Pacers made a concerted effort to surround the young talent on the team with a group of solid vets who could fill key roles on the floor and also help establish a culture as a group of pro’s pros who prepare and play to win.
With the official departures of Young, Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic and Cory Joseph, the team is Vic’s to lead. Technically, Doug McDermott is five months older than Oladipo, but with slightly younger vets in Malcolm Brogdon (26), Jeremy Lamb (27) and T.J. Warren (25) joining the playing rotation for their prime years, the Pacers now have more versatile options to help Vic make the Pacers go. The versatility to create mismatches, which we saw hamper the Pacers against Boston in the playoffs, is where we will see an upgrade with this group of players.
The past two years, the Pacers played better than the sum of their parts with vets filling roles and playing those roles extremely well. But there were ways to expose individual limitations whether that be size or shooting consistency and without Vic, creating offense could be a challenge at crunch time or late in the shot clock. Now the Pacers have options to go big or small and fast and keep a couple of guys on the floor that can go get buckets.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no kiddie corps. The new guys are rock solid vets and looking further into the roster, both Domas Sabonis and Myles Turner are mature players with plenty of experience at this point despite being just 23 years old.
It seemed nuts that the Pacers would keep both Sabonis and Turner on draft night, but the league changed drastically on Sunday with no threatening super teams (pending Kawhi Leonard’s decision). Suddenly, size may not be a bad thing as the Philadelphia 76ers emerged as the big threat in the East after signing Al Horford who will pair up with Joel Embiid. The Pacers may be the only team right now that can matchup to their size and length.
But the summer is not done yet, and a move for another versatile wing that can slide to the four and stretch the floor may still put either big in a trade scenario the Pacers can’t pass up. But at least now, the thought of giving the Turner/Sabonis pairing a look to begin the season with the possibility to make a trade later in the season if things remain clunky, isn’t so bad.
The Pacers will go as far as Victor Oladipo leads them over the next two years and the fruits of the moves on Sunday won’t pay off until he returns to All-Star form (hopefully at some point this season, if not next year). But the fact he is now the old head in that locker room highlights the fact that the Pacers made bold changes to establish a new, younger and more dynamic foundation for the future.