Pacers on the right Path

Updated: December 9, 2021

The Indiana Pacers have been a franchise hovering on the fence in between the true contenders and lottery-bound teams in the Eastern Conference. As the book of Revelations infamously states, “So because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I will vomit you out of my mouth.” As such, the Pacers, although frequent participants in the postseason, have little playoff success and in turn—have very few high selections in the draft to begin developing a young core for the future.

After finally missing the playoffs last year due to an array of injuries, they used their lottery selection and 13th pick of the draft on the most NBA-ready guard on the board, 23-year-old Chris Duarte. With the Pacers making no significant trades in the offseason, this safe high-floor low-ceiling selection only further solidified their trajectory as a middle-of-the-pack tier 3 team in the East moving forward. After their poor showing in the regular season last year, many had hoped they had finally seen the light and would be willing to part with their stack of B- to B+ players in exchange for a rebuild, yet instead entered this year with their status quo of being good, not great.

Ever since the breakout season of Victor Oladipo and the battle against Cleveland and King James, there was an irrational sense of optimism out of Indiana. The hope was once Oladipo returned from his injury, that he would be the All-NBA guard to lead the Pacers to playoff relevancy. Instead, they held the stock too long and were lucky to get LeVert in exchange because when shopped around the league there were few suitors to even take on Victor’s contract.

Something shifted though in the last few days. The beginning of this season started with 5 of their core players out with injury and even when relatively healthy they simply have looked like one of the most uninspiring teams in the NBA. They have finally released the long-awaited report, that all their core pieces are on the trade block to the highest bidder.

Hopefully, considering they have zero young players on rookie contracts that have All-NBA potential, they will be willing to take the long road home. Rather than gathering the LaVert’s of the world, they should be willing to take on bad contracts and prioritize high ceiling rookies and draft capital. A fear though for the Indiana front office is that they waited too long. In years past, the majority of teams fighting to make playoff pushes near the trade deadline had draft picks to spend and it was only the negotiations of players and matching salaries which was the primary issues to overcome.

Today, several playoff teams would love to add Sabonis, Turner, or LeVert, but most of these franchises have not only dealt away the majority of their available draft capital, but they also have very few interesting rookies to deal. The Brooklyn Nets would love to add Miles Turner to their starting lineup, but they have no reasonable trade packages to create with all their draft picks owed out to Houston. The Lakers would love to start searching through the trade machine however outside of trading THT, all their picks are owed out to New Orleans after the Anthony Davis exchange. In the win-now mode Miami is in and the recent Bam Adebayo thumb surgery they would love to add another above-average big, but most of their picks are already spread out across the league from previous trades. The Bucks have most likely lost Brook Lopez for the season with back surgery but most of their picks are owed to New Orleans from the Jrue Holiday trade.

Of the few teams that do have some picks or young players to move for Turner or Sabonis, most of them already have their big rotation set. The Utah Jazz has a few picks to move but they already have Gobert and Whiteside. The Suns have draft capital to spend but they have Ayton and McGee. Because of these restrictions or lack of market for these bigs and even less of a market for LeVert who would probably be better suited as a 3rd guard on a title team yet makes too much to fill such a role, it limits the options in the trade machine for the Pacer’s front office.
{In part II of the Pacers’ Path, we will explore the viable options available.}

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