In the second quarter of Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo suffered a serious injury on a fast break. After undergoing an MRI on Thursday, Oladipo was diagnosed with a ruptered quad tendon in his right knee, and now faces a long recovery process upwards of nine months.
Charles Barkley and Tony Parker have also endured the same injury, which has the potential to severely hamper Oladipo’s explosiveness once he returns. Still, if there’s one player who will do everything in his power to come back at 100%, it’s Oladipo.
Now, without their best player for at least the rest of this season, the Pacers have some questions to answer. How will they attack the rest of this season, and how will they build the roster for next year? Indiana currently owns the third seed in the Eastern Conference, and has one of the most interesting roster constructions in the entire NBA.
. @VicOladipo stretchered off the floor after a knee injury. And of course, because he’s Vic, in the middle of being in obvious pain, and dealing with how bad this might be, he still takes time to acknowledge the Indiana fans as he’s wheeled to the locker room. pic.twitter.com/VdprxFFw4m
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) January 24, 2019
Only eight players are signed for next season, and four of them are in their first or second seasons. In fact, of the nine players that play more than 15 minutes per game, only four are under contract for next season. The 2019-2020 Pacers could look very different from the current squad. Oladipo and Myles Turner are great building blocks, it’s a testament to both the quality of players on the roster and the coaching of Nate McMillan that the team is keeping pace with the heavyweights of the East.
With a plethora of desirable expiring contracts, Indiana has the potential to be very active at the trade deadline. They can go about this a number of different ways, although any deal should be negotiated with the focus of gearing up for a deep playoff run once Oladipo returns. Here are three trades the Pacers front office should think about.
1. Turn expiring contracts into draft picks
It’s unlikely that every player not under contract for next season signs elsewhere, but it’s just as unlikely that Indiana retains each of them. Now is the time to begin thinking about which players they will attempt to re-sign, and which ones they will let walk, either because the Pacers can upgrade or won’t be willing to pay what will be required to keep them.
Tyreke Evans has not been nearly as good as he was last season for the Memphis Grizzlies, but with Oladipo out, he will almost certainly take on a larger role. Still, at his $12.4 million salary, it’s hard to see him in an Indiana uniform next season. Cory Joseph is another player that should be on the trade block.
Ideally, the Pacers are able to keep Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Thaddeus Young for decent rates, but if Indiana feels as if another team will offer more than the Pacers are willing, it would be better to get something in return now, rather than letting that player walk in free agency for nothing. Besides, without Oladipo, the focus this season should not be on making the NBA Finals.
A solid target would be the Atlanta Hawks’ Kent Bazemore. At $18 million this season with a player option worth $19 million for 2019-2020, Bazemore is overpaid, but he is still a very solid player. Sending Evans and Joseph to Atlanta for Bazemore and a protected draft pick would be an excellent deal for the Pacers, increasing their future draft capital and improving their depth for next season.
2. Attempt to replace Oladipo this season
While this is the worst option, it is still that; an option. Indiana’s first move should be to give Tyreke Evans more shots in the hope that regains his 2017-2018 form. However, that leaves the void of a bench scorer. The Cleveland Cavaliers roster two players who could fill that role; Alec Burks and Rodney Hood, both of whom will be free agents at the end of the season. Burks is the more consistent player, but Hood has more big-game potential. Either player would improve the bench, the question is is a trade like this even worth making? It won’t completely cover for the loss of Oladipo this season and won’t help the team at all in 2019-2020. The wiser move would be to implement options 1 or 3 on this list.
3. Use expiring contracts to make a big move
If the Pacers were to trade for a player like Washington’s Otto Porter or Memphis’s Mike Conley, they would get the best of both worlds; they could improve the team for this season and bolster it for 2019-2020, while possibly gaining draft picks as well.
Both Porter and Conley are on large contracts, so Indiana would have to part with Evans, Collison, Joseph, and Kyle O’Quinn to acquire them. Conley is an especially good fit, as his defense and passing are excellent, and he is a solid scorer, both in the post and behind the three-point line. He also does not require the ball in his hands to be effective, which will be crucial once Oladipo returns.
Even though Victor Oladipo’s injury is devastating news, the Pacers will have a chance to challenge the 76ers, Bucks, Celtics, and Raptors for Eastern Conference supremacy, as long as they have a strong offseason. That offseason could begin shortly, with a big trade focused on next season. Indiana is already a very good team, and one move could vault them into the upper echelon of teams, a place they have not been since 2013-2014. As long as Oladipo returns to form, Indiana could be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.