We have a (salary clearing) trade! According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Pacers are sending TJ Leaf and a second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for 20-year-old, 6-foot-4 point guard Jalen Lecque and avoiding the luxury tax.
Per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Indiana was only $38,000 under the tax line before reaching agreement with JaKarr Sampson on a one-year, minimum deal this morning, thereby signaling that some sort of cost-cutting move was likely to be on the horizon in order to duck paying the penalty. Unfortunately, rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to decline Leaf’s $4.3 million option for the upcoming season when given the chance last October, the Pacers are now offloading his contract with an asset.
In three seasons with the Pacers, Indiana’s 2017 first-round pick averaged 3.3 points and two rebounds while getting buried in the rotation in favor of more experienced veterans like Trevor Booker and JaKarr Sampson as well as rookie big man Goga Bitadze.
Better at finishing shots around the basket and avoiding defending in space, Indiana’s end-of-the-bench center in a lanky power forward’s body never fully harnessed his skills as a stretch four at either end of the floor. With the arc on his shot flattening with age, Leaf’s bulkier alter ego only managed to hit on 26 percent of his tries from deep over the last two seasons, after shooting an encouraging 42.5 percent from three on 41 attempts as a rookie. Moreover, though the UCLA product occasionally showed some flashes of finesse, dropping in hook shots and putbacks around the basket with a quick second jump, he got his shocked blocked more times through the seeding games and scrimmages in Orlando (6) than in all of the games prior to the hiatus combined (5).
In Oklahoma City, Leaf is expected to fight for a role in the rotation on a rebuilding team, where he’ll likely have a better opportunity to develop and produce. With the Pacers, he averaged 6 points and five rebounds on 44 percent shooting in the nine games this season in which he logged over 10 minutes of playing time.
Lecque, who made his way to the Thunder by way of the trade that sent Chris Paul to the Suns, spent most of his time in the G League last season, averaging 13.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists while impressing with his athletic leaping-ability, after Phoenix signed him to a four year deal with two years guaranteed as an undrafted rookie out of five years of (reclassified) high school.
The Pacers already have Victor Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon, Aaron Holiday, and T.J. McConnell, so the move brings some mystery as to what the team’s plans are at guard if the 20-year-old with hops and a shaky conversion rate from three (21.7 percent) remains on the roster, especially since they also have Jeremy Lamb, Edmond Sumner and second-round draft pick Cassius Stanley.
Assuming Lecque isn’t waived, the Pacers have 14 players under contract for next season, not counting Stanley or Exhibit 10 deals with shot-blocking big man Amida Brimah and lefty power forward Rayshaun Hammonds.