Domantas Sabonis Rumors: Pacers Star 'Wants Out' of Indiana amid Trade Buzz

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVDecember 16, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 10: Domantas Sabonis #11 of the Indiana Pacers dribbles the ball in the third quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on December 10, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis is reportedly seeking a "change of scenery" after four-plus seasons as a member of the Indiana Pacers.

Matt Moore of the Action Network reported Wednesday that Sabonis "wants out" and could be the cornerstone of a blockbuster deal to shake up the Pacers' roster.

"That would assume these problems are isolated to this season; they've needed a change and known it for some time," an NBA source told Moore about the idea of Indiana trying to weather the storm amid a 12-18 start.

While the idea of trading Sabonis has been floating around in recent weeks, the move was mostly linked to a full-scale rebuild for Indiana—the first major deal in a sequence that would tear down its entire roster as part of a long-term project.

Shams Charania and Bob Kravitz of The Athletic reported last week the team was "moving toward a substantial rebuild" with Sabonis, Myles Turner and Caris LeVert as its main trade assets.

Pacers governor Herb Simon downplayed that line of thinking on Wednesday.

Simon told a small group of reporters, including the Fieldhouse Files' Scott Agness, the idea they are heading toward a major rebuild is "not correct," and he strongly denied any plans to engage in what amounted to tanking to secure a series of high draft picks:

"We are not a franchise that is going to dump to get a better pick. We're going to try to win every game. Sometimes we'll develop rookie players, which may cost us a game, but we're never gonna to go into a game to lose while I'm an owner. I don't believe in it. Some teams do, but I don't believe in that.
"If you remember, going back to Donnie Walsh, we always built without tearing down. We built on the go. We can do the same thing. We can have a good team and get better rather than break it up to get better. As a fan, I don't want to do that. And I don't believe our fans deserve to see a team that's purposely losing. I don't ever want to be accused of that."

The problem is getting caught in the middle—too good to land a top-three draft pick but not good enough to seriously contend for a championship—is often the worst place to land in sports. Completing a successful rebuild without bottoming out for at least a short time is difficult, barring a few massive free-agent signings.

Moving Sabonis is the type of move that could bring the Pacers a large haul of future picks to help jump-start a rebuild.

The 25-year-old Gonzaga product is averaging 18.5 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 59.1 percent from this field across 30 games this season. He's tied for ninth among all NBA players in WAR, per FiveThirtyEight.

Now also represents a perfect time to trade him since he's still got two-plus seasons left on his four-year, $74.9 million contract, which runs through 2023-24. It would allow Indiana to demand a larger return than if he was an impending free agent at season's end.

Keeping Sabonis and using him as one of the key foundational pieces for the future is a more preferred path, of course. It sounds like he'd rather get a fresh start elsewhere, though.

Ultimately, the Pacers will probably wait until closer to the Feb. 10 trade deadline to see if they can recover from their slow start before starting any type of sell off, but it appears change is on the horizon.