The Pacers Have No Future
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It isn’t this hard, right? It can’t be.
I joke around a lot about how I should be in charge of an NBA team. And I never actually believe it except when stuff like the Paul George trade happens.
George is one of the ten best players in the NBA. I’m pretty confident in that. He is incredible on both ends. He can guard point guards through power forwards comfortably. He isn’t necessarily going to score as easily every time down the floor as some inferior overall players like Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, or Demar DeRozan. But what’s more important is what he doesn’t do.
There’s much discussion in the NBA about “two-way players,” guys who contribute on both offense and defense at a high level. People often say weird stuff like “Kawhi Leonard is the best two-way player in the NBA!” Obviously, the best two-way player is LeBron James. Defense should not be ignored in your assessment of who the best player in the league is, even if it is indisputably the less important of the two sides of the ball. These same people say Klay Thompson is a better two-way player than Steph Curry. This type of talk is usually reserved for players who are viewed as more important on defense than they are on offense — though I would argue that isn’t true for Kawhi or Klay anymore. But whichever player contributes more overall is the better two-way player, not just the player that is “defense-first” but still good on offense.
Really, the entire “two-way player” conversation is reductive. Not only does it sort of ignore rebounding, which I guess is the special teams of basketball, it also suggests that there are only two areas where players can contribute. Really, they can contribute in hundreds of specific, intricate ways. But broadly, it’s more like four: on-ball offense, off-ball offense, on-ball defense, and off-ball defense. Paul George is one of the few four-way stars in the league.
George doesn’t limit your offense like an Irving or a DeRozan, because he is just as valuable off-ball as he is on-ball on offense. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands. He doesn’t need to initiate everything you do, but he absolutely can if you need him to.
So the Pacers had one of the top ten players in the league, and one of five players who contribute at a superstar level in all four areas along with LeBron, Kawhi, Durant, and CP3.
They built a good team around George. Stood by while it crumbled, and then traded him for nothing. A big defense of the abysmal, unacceptable Boogie Cousins trade was that there weren’t many other offers out there. That is clearly not the case for George. A quick rundown of others teams that were reportedly interested, and what they may have offered:
Potential offer: Picks, a young player (Brown/Tatum/Rozier/Smart), a veteran (Avery Bradley or Jae Crowder).
VERDICT: GOOD AND BETTER THAN WHAT THEY GOT
It is always hard to tell with the Celtics what was really offered and what wasn’t, and what they realistically would have given up. Ainge is always going to try and screw you, but there is virtually no realistic package the Celtics could have assembled that would have been worse than what the Pacers took from the Thunder.
Potential offer: Kevin Love, any other bench player you wanted, possibly the number four pick from Phoenix, distant future picks
VERDICT: GOOD AND BETTER THAN WHAT THEY GOT
Just take the All-Star and don’t overthink it. Love has two years left on his deal, so let him go out there and cook, put up the best numbers he can, and see if a team wants him at the deadline or the offseason for more assets.
Potential offer: Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, picks
VERDICT: FINE AND BETTER THAN WHAT THEY GOT
Part of the reality for the Pacers and team president Kevin Pritchard is the team’s owner, Herbert Simon. He is old and he doesn’t want to rebuild. He wants the team to make the playoffs. Getting Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon isn’t going to make the Pacers a playoff team, but they are two super useful players. It’s something.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Potential offer: Allen Crabbe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner I guess, basically anyone not named Lillard or McCollum, picks (15 and 20 or 10, or future picks)
VERDICT: BAD AND BETTER THAN WHAT THEY GOT
The Blazers really have an astoundingly low amount of good players considering how expensive their team is. But a couple decent role players and the Blazers’ picks in the 2017 draft would have been way better than Oladipo and Sabonis with no picks at all.
So that’s what I mean. There were offers. There was no reason to do the trade that they did. Even if the Celtics and the Cavs were hedging and stalling, and the Blazers and Rockets weren’t actually interested — that would have been crazy — you just wait. You don’t need to have the trade done by the start of free agency just so you can sign Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic to short-term deals. It was just a silly, unforced error in every way.
George’s value was so high to those four teams — even though he is on an expiring contract — because in just that one year he drastically changes each of their realities. The Cavs get a much better shot at the title, the Celtics and Rockets get a much better chance at making the Finals, and the Blazers get a guaranteed playoff spot.
But that is all in the past. This post is supposed to be about the future! The Pacers have Myles Turner and nothing else. They don’t have a reliable coach or front office, a good history in the draft, valuable role players on good contracts, or young players with the chance to get significantly better, outside of Turner. Oladipo is not young and while he will probably have the best season of his career this year, there is a reason he just went to his third team in his career. His huge contract really makes him more liability than asset.
So that’s why the first 800 words of this post were about the past. Because the Pacers have no future. The rare times they come up in conversation over the next few years, the talk will likely be about the disaster that is the Paul George trade.