In what appeared like an innocuous move to open up a roster spot for the stretch-run of the season, the Pacers waived 20-year-old guard Jalen Lecque, presumably bringing a quiet end to the trade deadline, before dropping the significant news that T.J. Warren will be out for the remainder of the season.
Warren, who underwent surgery on January 5 to repair a small left navicular stress fracture, hasn’t appeared in uniform for the Pacers since the end of December, when he emerged from the loss against the Boston Celtics with foot soreness. It’s a tough setback for Warren, who now won’t have a chance this season to build on the momentum he gained playing in the Orlando bubble, scoring 30 or more points in four of his six seeding games.
As for the Pacers, though the announcement puts less pressure on Warren to rush the rehab process, his season-ending absence obviously, once again, makes it more difficult to evaluate what the team has in the current roster at full health, while also putting increased pressure on Jeremy Lamb and Justin Holiday to continue sopping up bench minutes at the four spot, at least in the immediate.
To that point, Indiana didn’t make any moves at the trade deadline, but Lecque’s waiver clears the way for the front office to monitor the buyout market, as was the case in 2018-19, when the team signed Wesley Matthews in the wake of Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury to bolster the roster and stay alive in the hunt for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference, burying Aaron Holiday and Edmond Sumner deeper in the rotation.
At the time, the Pacers opted not to sell on veteran role players, instead making a push for the playoffs, only to later be swept in the first-round by the Boston Celtics. Of course, in the end, Indiana didn’t retain Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, or Cory Joseph in free agency, but the team acquired Malcolm Brogdon in a sign-and-trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. By comparison, with far less money coming off books this summer, Indiana currently sits a half-game back of the eight-seed in the standings and will likely need to bank on the continued emergence of Caris LeVert to eke into the playoffs, notwithstanding the play-in tournament.
Overall, assuming the team sees T.J. McConnell’s plucky playmaking and Doug McDermott’s off-ball movement as part of the team’s long-term future (or, perhaps as options for potential sign-and-trade deals), then continuing to mesh for the remainder of the season — even with the knowledge of Warren’s absence — may not be the worst outcome, though it seems to continue a long, never-ending pattern of “welp, there’s always next year.”
Lecque, meanwhile, averaged 14.3 points and 3.3 assists in 14 games for the Mad Ants in Orlando, but with a shaky jump-shot from deep (26 percent), wasn’t often respected from the perimeter and had a tendency to jump into his defender and try to do too much while demonstrating sketchy shot selection.
Coming on the heels of injuries to Victor Oladipo (ruptured quad tendon) and Domantas Sabonis (plantar fasciitis), this marks the third-straight season that the Pacers will finish without a key member of the starting lineup.