This is part 1 of my series of helping NBA teams get out of the dreaded middle ground between title contention and rebuilding. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the Indiana Pacers.
The Indiana Pacers are currently the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. Based on their performance, it’s easy to mistake this team as fringe title contenders. However, in reality, they’re not even close to top-level teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers have a number of issues, but these are the most important ones:
- Figuring out what to do with Victor Oladipo
- Clearing the frontcourt clutter (Turner and Sabonis)
- Taking a shot on a star through trades
Trade 1: Victor Oladipo to the Miami Heat in exchange for Kendrick Nunn, Kelly Olynyk, and a 2022 second-round pick
Oladipo’s play has fallen off because of his injuries, but other teams still value him as a fringe star. Rumors have it that the Miami Heat is one of Oladipo’s preferred destinations if he were to make it to free agency in 2021.
This trade only works if Olynyk opts into his contract, but that’s very likely. The Miami Heat are getting a star at a cheaper price because of his injuries, and the Pacers are getting a younger point guard, a serviceable bench big, and a second-round pick as a sweetener.
Trade 2: Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. McConnell, and a 2021 lottery-protected first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for CJ McCollum and 2026 second-round pick
Sabonis and Turner together won’t work. This isn’t 1982. The two big guys don’t fit together, and they need to trade one of them.
Sabonis, coming off his first all-star appearance, has significantly better trade value, and I personally like Turner’s potential as a stretch big more.
Convincing Portland to break up their backcourt of McCollum and Lillard won’t be easy. However, Dame isn’t getting any younger, and their team isn’t championship ready as currently constructed. They need to take some risks.
Brogdon pairs better with McCollum, and in six games without Lillard this year, McCollum averaged 33.3 points, 8.3 assists, and 5.3 rebounds. McCollum has the potential to expand his game as the undisputed leading scorer on the Pacers.
Starters: Malcolm Brogdon, CJ McCollum, T.J. Warren, Doug McDermott, Myles Turner
Bench: Aaron Holiday, Kendrick Nunn, Justin Holiday (resign), Kelly Olynyk, Goga Bitazde, T.J. Leaf
For a small-market team, free agents are hard to come by. This coming free agency, they don’t have room to sign anyone significant. However, there are some viable options in 2021 once McDermott, Olynyk, and Leaf’s contracts all come off the books.
With the Celtics needing to re-sign Jayson Tatum to a likely max contract, the Pacers can throw money at Gordon Hayward that he can’t refuse. Additionally, Kelly Oubre Jr. is also an unrestricted free agent in 2021 and would fit well with this team.
By taking the steps outlined above, the Pacers are making it clear that they want to push for a championship. Oladipo and Sabonis are great players, but they don’t fit in well with the roster the way it is currently built.
The Pacers can give McCollum and Turner a chance to sign, and see how it goes. This may work, or it may not, but it’s better than being stuck in the middle.
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