Much to the dismay of the NBA Twitter rumor mill, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George is committed to taking at least one more run at bringing an NBA championship to Indianapolis. In a recent interview with Nate Taylor of the Indy Star, PG13 reaffirmed his belief in the team and endorsed new GM Kevin Pritchard wholeheartedly.
So now we know what the Pacers’ plan for the offseason is: build a winning team that can convince George to double down on that commitment with a contract extension.
What the Pacers do in free agency remains to be seen, but with the NBA Draft approaching in five days, the Pacers have the opportunity to add some youth to the roster. They currently hold picks #18 and #47 in the Draft, and it’s critical that they use those picks to make an instant impact and leave George feeling more confident.
Here are some options the Pacers have available:
TRY TO TRADE UP
There’s more than a few players in this draft class that would not only contribute from day one but would also fit the Pacers ideally. One such player is Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell, a long-armed, sweet-shooting combo guard who could start alongside Jeff Teague at shooting guard or back him up at point guard.
The problem is that most mock draft services project Mitchell to be a lottery pick, leaving him unavailable for Indy at #18. Indiana forward OG Anunoby, Gonzaga center Zach Collins, and Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen are in the same boat; great options, but likely unreachable.
The good news is that this may be a year where the Pacers have an easier time than usual trading up, if they want to.
Minnesota is looking for a veteran point guard, making a sign-and-trade deal involving Jeff Teague and Minnesota’s #7 pick a possibility. Portland has a trio of first-round picks and could use an unselfish wing; the Pacers have Thad Young, who seemed to struggle to embrace the role of a stretch four last season. Sacramento also has multiple first rounders, both in the top 10, and they’ve had plenty of conversations with Indy’s front office in the last several years, even if no deals have come to fruition.
Even in a deep class like this year’s, the Pacers can always improve their odds of finding a rookie that will make them a better team sooner.
— Wheat Hotchkiss (@Wheat_Hotchkiss) June 17, 2017
TRY TO TRADE DOWN
Two draft picks with this much talent on the board can make life a lot easier for the Pacers. That said, if Indy has to spend a lot of money re-signing Jeff Teague and/or CJ Miles, they might not be able to make competitive offers to any free agents they’re eyeing, which could make adding extra draft picks a very appealing option.
Three teams-Utah, Portland, and Brooklyn-pick twice after the #20 spot. The Jazz also have multiple early second round picks, as do the Magic (who have an extra first rounder at #25). If any of those teams covet a player that won’t make it past the Pacers, Pritchard could leverage that need into a deal that gets them a total of four or five picks in this draft, at the expense of only a few spots.
Orlando’s two second rounders are #33 and #35, making them almost as valuable as late first rounders. For the #18 pick, plus Al Jefferson–since the Magic have a gap in their frontcourt rotation after trading Serge Ibaka–the Pacers might have a shot at talking Orlando out of #s 25, 33, and 35 all at once.
It’s no secret that PG13 had his frustrations with the way Larry Bird approached roster building. Stacking up draft picks and bringing in young guys who can be groomed to better fit the Pacers’ system would make some of Bird’s more questionable additions expendable.
GO SHOPPING FOR THE RIGHT VETERAN
This option hinges on what level of urgency the Pacers feel to achieve a high degree of success right away. If simply convincing George that they’re well on their way to contending for a title is enough, then maximizing the value they can get through draft picks is the go-to route.
However, if Pritchard is under the impression that the only acceptable outcome for this year–in George’s mind–is beating LeBron and winning the East, at a minimum, then swapping the 18th pick for a proven veteran is a smarter move.
The trick there isn’t finding a deal as much as finding a player that actually fits and can contribute. The Pacers have been burned in recent years by additions like Jefferson, Monta Ellis, and Rodney Stuckey, so they need to be careful about bringing in a player that they can’t sell to George as a real asset.
One player Indy could potentially look at, depending on their cap situation, is LaMarcus Aldridge of the Spurs. As difficult as it is to read into anything that San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich says, his comments after the Western Conference finals hinted at disappointment with the way Aldridge performed and perhaps even at a lack of confidence in his fit with the team.
But Aldridge is still a very capable interior enforcer on both ends, with enough athleticism to run alongside Pacers center Myles Turner. He would also free Turner up to step onto the perimeter more and make better use of his three-point capability. It might cost Indy both of their draft picks, but San Antonio is the type of team that would free the Pacers of some bad contracts in the name of acquiring younger talent, so it might end up being worth it.
There’s certainly a wealth of options to explore. Dallas could be talked into dealing wingman Wesley Matthews to allow Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry more chances to share the backcourt; the Nuggets have more perimeter players than they have minutes to fairly distribute; Philly might be interested in replenishing their supply of picks if they succeed in acquiring the #1 overall pick from Boston, making players like Dario Saric and Robert Covington suddenly available.
In the end, these scenarios are all strictly hypothetical, and I’m sure that Pritchard has already thought of all of them or ones like them. Likewise, I can’t guarantee any of them will come to fruition. What I will say, however, is that the Pacers have a genuine reason to believe that PG13 leaving Indy is not as inevitable as we thought.
Remember, this franchise has been a contender before. Reggie Miller made us all believe that an NBA Championship parade could be held in downtown Indy. George has the ability to do that as well. However, even the greatest players in league history can’t win titles by themselves. We need to put together a championship-worthy roster around George, and that starts by doing as much with our draft picks–especially #18–as we can.
18 is a very significant number around these parts-here’s hoping that the Pacers can add to that significance this coming Thursday.