The Indiana Pacers had a nightmare offseason. After losing Lance Stephenson in free agency to the Charlotte Hornets, Paul George suffered a season-ending leg injury in a scrimmage with Team USA. That alone might be enough to make a once-elite team reconsider their direction, then identify players to move.
It's hard to say, but without having ample cap space this offseason or the means to replace either player internally, the Pacers are in trouble for this upcoming season. While there is still some solid talent on the roster, David West isn't a player who can lead a legitimate contender's offense, no matter how good the defense might be.
The Pacers were already pretty horrible offensively last year, even with Stephenson and George. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Indiana ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency last season. Indiana's defense has always carried them, but losing the perimeter ball pressure of Stephenson and George stings as well.
Despite the unfortunate outlook for this year, George's injury might illuminate an interesting route for the Pacers to pursue. With no chance at a title this year and no financial flexibility, perhaps it's time to shake up the roster and rebuild with younger players around George for the future.
This has all the makings of a lost season, and with David West and Roy Hibbert both owning player options next year, there's always the threat of losing them for nothing in free agency. The Pacers already experienced that feeling with Stephenson, so perhaps team president Larry Bird will make sure it doesn't happen again.
Here's Jared Wade at 8points9seconds.com:
Do they see if they can get something of value for David West? What contending team wouldn’t want West? He brings scoring to any front court, and he is a pillar of professionalism and leadership. He returns at least a draft pick and a young player with some promise.
Who wants to take George Hill? His ability to run a team has been exposed somewhat over the past year, but if a team who doesn’t mind the salary (the Nets?) wants to give up anything of value, why not?
It would look bad if Larry Bird immediately sold off key players and abandoned next season. But perception isn’t reality. This Pacers’ era may have just come to a heartbreaking close. The team may not be able to contend again without an injection of talent — something that, due to its salary cap situation, cannot happen by any means other than Trade It All And Get Lucky In The Draft Again.
It's hard to admit when the window for contention has closed, but that might be the case for the Pacers. West is only getting older, Hibbert could put some of the rough times in Indy behind him by bolting elsewhere, and a guy like Hill has no potential to be anything but what he already is. It's just hard to see how the Pacers will improve going forward, especially with their limitations.
"We'll never go over the (luxury) tax," Bird said. "My owner has told me he won't do that." #Pacers— Michael Pointer (@michaelpointer) August 12, 2014
Is a rebuild in the cards, though?
Here's Pierre Wilson at InkOnIndy.com with what Bird has done in the past:
Now that the dust has settled a bit, and George has started recovery from a successful surgery, it’s time to talk about the Pacers future. Should the Pacers rebuild?
It’s definitely something that has to be crossing the mind of Larry Bird and the Pacers front office. Bird hasn’t been known to be the rebuilding type, but retooling may be another story? Jermaine O’Neal for T.J. Ford and 17th pick (Roy Hibbert), Ron Artest for Peja Stojakovic, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington for Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy.
I bring up these trades from the past as an example of how Larry Bird might be thinking. Now players may not have panned out in these deals, but we have to keep in mind whom the Pacers were sending out. This time around Bird may have a lot better assets at his disposal.
At least for right now, it doesn't appear the Pacers are in rebuilding mode quite yet. Bird may want to evaluate what his remaining core and Frank Vogel can do after losing such critical pieces. If the Pacers can stay afloat, waiting for George to return next year may be a real option.
Here's what Bird said in a press conference following the George injury:
We're going to do our best to compete hard and make the playoffs. My goal is to win as many games as we possibly can and get into the playoffs. I know some of our fans would rather us go a different direction, but we're here to win and we're going to try to win.
That doesn't mean Bird won't be active on the market. Earlier this offseason, here's what Sean Deveney of the Sporting News reported before George's injury:
“They’re open to making major changes, if they’re there,” one general manager told Sporting News. “I think they’d be disappointed to see that same core group back intact, so it is a matter of, how drastic can the changes they make be? Moving Hibbert for multiple pieces would be a pretty drastic change, but they’re asking.”
One source noted the obvious, which is that star small forward Paul George is untouchable in any deal with the Pacers, and added that power forward David West was all but off the table, too. He added that Indiana’s preference would be to send Hibbert to the Western Conference.
Let's assume that the events of this offseason eventually push the Pacers into a rebuild. Who would be the easiest player (outside of George, of course) to move in that scenario?
The player who could return the most value would most likely be David West. He's still solid on both ends and could help just about any contending team, whether it be as a starter or the first big man off the bench.
The issue with West is that teams might not be willing to give up substantial assets without knowing if he'd accept his player option for the 2015-16 season. Trading a future first-round pick or young player for a half-season rental, which would likely be the case here, might not be seen as ideal.
Hibbert should still have his suitors around the league, even with his massive collapse late last year. If he rebounds to start the season and looks like the Hibbert of old, a team in need of a defensive anchor could come calling.
Again, though, because Hibbert has a player option after this season, the team trading for him would likely have to be assured he would re-sign.
With that in mind, perhaps the easiest asset to deal and start off the rebuilding period would be Hill. Although he's a really strong defender, Hill is a terrible match for the Pacers. He's conservative to a fault, often pulling the ball out in transition and refusing to attack or take risks.
Indiana will need scoring and playmaking more than ever, but Hill's flaws in those areas might only be magnified.
That shouldn't sink his value, however. Hill can play either backcourt spot and would be ideal as a first guard off the bench for a contending team.
Although his three years and $24 million remaining are steep, a team that doesn't have plans to be under the cap anytime soon could trade a first-round pick and expiring contracts in order to acquire Hill.
The Pacers would need to either sign or get back another point guard, as C.J. Watson and Donald Sloan are the two backups and aren't long-term solutions.
Even with that in mind, trading Hill's lengthy salary and clearing room at the league's deepest position makes a lot of sense, even if Indiana doesn't go all-in with a full rebuild. Hill is a good role player, but the loss of Stephenson means the Pacers need someone who can score for himself and create more than ever. That's just not Hill, and at 28, he probably is what he is.
If Indiana has plans of shedding salary, picking up young prospects and acquiring draft picks, Hill would probably be the easiest Pacers player to move in order to get the ball rolling.
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