After being eliminated in last year's playoffs, the Indiana Pacers were faced with star drama. Paul George informed the team he wouldn't re-sign once his contract was up, sending the Pacers into trade finder mode. Ultimately, the Pacers decided to send George to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, confusing the NBA Twitter community.
As much as I love my dude Victor Oladipo, the Pacers giving up Paul George for him and Sabonis is an awful trade
— Matthew Conn (@MatthewConn3) July 1, 2017
Did *not* realize the PG deal was that close.
Also: Gary Harris is better than Victor Oladipo…this is an odd bet by Indy.
— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA) July 23, 2017
Well, this is why we're on Twitter and not in front offices.
(Quiet, Mr. Colangelo. All five of you.)
The Pacers shocked everyone but themselves, snagging the fifth seed with a 48-win season. Victor Oladipo finally turned into the star many envisioned he could become when he was drafted. Sabonis was arguably Indiana's best center. Darren Collison and Cory Joseph formed an underrated point guard duo. A team many expected to miss the playoffs nearly knocked off LeBron James and the Cavs in round one.
Now, the Pacers are looking to build off of their impressive season. Their core is in place, they have draft capital, and there's a path to carve out a max slot if a star bites.
7. ND: The Pacers and Thunder are obviously linked thanks to the Paul George trade. Were you more surprised by Indiana's success, or the Thunder's underwhelming season?
TE: Definitely the Thunder’s underwhelming season. Which is interesting because I had the Pacers only winning like 30 games.
There was always a reasonable possibility in my head that Indiana could be good-ish. Myles Turner predicted it in the preseason and the pieces at least somewhat fit. So even though they smoked their projections, it was less surprising than OKCs “struggles” to me.
I was in the camp that thought the Thunder would be the second best team in the West. I also thought they matched up fairly well with GSW. I thought OKC would win 60 games and be a finals contender. They got beat by the Utah Jazz. So, while both teams surprised me, OKC did more so.
6. Let's narrow it down a bit. What were your feelings of the Oladipo/George trade at the time it happened? How surprised were you by Dipo's growth?
When the trade happened I had a unique standpoint. Erase the names: the Pacers traded an expiring contract all-star for two players who were solid starters and both under 25 years old. Insert the names, and it felt like they lost the trade, but I didn’t think they lost by as much as the public did.
I went to IU at the same time as Oladipo. I was less surprised than most. I’ve seen him dominate before. It’s just rare to see guys make this leap after their rookie contract is over. But I was surprised he went from a secondary option to a primary option so seamlessly. And obviously this answer has some revisionist history in it. Like, I knew what he could be, but I didn’t know he would ever actually become an All-NBA guard. So in that way, it surprised me.
5. Dipo was better than Paul George this year, right?
Hm. Probably yeah. Playing with Russell Westbrook is hard. It makes you play out of rhythm more frequently than guys are accustomed to. That hurt Oladipo last year and it hurt George this year. I think Victor Oladipo was better in his role this past season than Paul George was in his but I think they are on similar planes of talent. Making the same All-NBA team was symbolic of that.
4. Alright, last thing on PG, I swear. The Pacers can finesse their way into a max slot with a little bit of maneuvering. Is there any chance Indy tries to make a run at their ex, or is that bridge burned forever?
It’s burned forever. The fit is seamless and obvious, but it wouldn’t make sense narrative wise. The Pacers are proud of the camaraderie they built this season and there were countless stories about the team’s chemistry. Paul George would fit right in as a 3-and-D guy, but it just isn’t worth the off court griminess it would create.
3. Speaking of wings with odd connections to the fanbase, Lance Stephenson has a team option this summer. How do you think the Pacers should handle him?
Lance Stephenson the basketball player is probably not worth $4.4 million. Lance Stephenson, the Indianapolis legend, absolutely is worth the money. It is impossible to explain to people who don’t keep up with the team how people in Indy feel about Lance, but it is special. He even plays better here — his home/road splits are kind of hilarious. So while his production may not be worth it in money, his value goes beyond the numbers. I highly doubt the Pacers get rid of him.
2. The Pacers have a pair of picks (23, 50) in this year's draft. Who are some guys you'd like to see them target?
Points guards and wings. Wings because, duh. That is the way the league is going. The defense of Cincinnati's Jacob Evans, or the offense of Miami's Lonnie Walker would be welcome additions to the roster. Drafting for fit is usually a bad idea, especially in the 20s, but the Pacers will need point guards after Cory Joseph and Darren Collison’s contracts both expire next summer. Villanova's Jalen Brunson and SMU's Shake Milton could fill in that gap. The shortest answer is anything but a big. They already have great young bigs. Get something else.
1. Excluding pipe dreams like Paul George, who would you like to see the Pacers go after in free agency?
My shortlist is Jerami Grant, Wayne Ellington, and Trevor Ariza. Ariza could be the 3-and-D wing they need inthe starting lineup, while Ellington and Grant could fill in the holes they need on both ends of the second unit. They could easily afford all three if they wanted to, but what Kevin Pritchard ultimately does will be fascinating.