With the NBA trade deadline under a month away, will the Indiana Pacers make any moves to strengthen their team for the playoff push?
With less than a month until the 2017 NBA trade deadline, team executives are either scrambling to grab that final missing piece that can fuel a championship run, or unload key players to gain cap space and picks for an offseason retooling. Rumors run rampant in the weeks leading up to the deadline, and this year's speculation regarding some of the biggest stars has been no different.
The Indiana Pacers find themselves in a tough spot near the deadline, with few desirable assets for other teams, and a relatively small amount of realistic options on the market to target. The two players most contending teams would want to acquire, Paul George and Myles Turner, are as close to untouchable as players can get, and the team's other big trading chip, Monta Ellis, is playing the worst basketball of his career. Since none of Indiana's big stars are on the block, that eliminates the potential of acquiring multiple assets with one trade, making Indiana one of the least attractive teams for teams with a "buy-now" mentality. On the reverse side, the type of player Indiana is looking to acquire is in short supply around the league, which makes finding the right piece to move all the more challenging.
In a recent interview with Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz, Pacers team president Larry Bird mentioned he was listening to trade offers around the league, but the position that most needs and upgrade for Indiana is shooting guard. Currently, Indiana is employing a combination of Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey, both of whom will come off of the bench once Stuckey returns from injury. Since Ellis, Stuckey, and second unit point guard Aaron Brooks are all ball dominant guards, it's evident that the piece Bird seeks is a catch-and-shoot 3-and-D type of player.
The price tag of an established shooter is hefty enough that moving smaller contracts like Aaron Brooks or Lavoy Allen isn't feasible to match in a trade. Given these salary situations, Ellis remains the most likely piece to be moved. Among players that have been mentioned as available for trade, Indiana would most likely target a player such as Phoenix's Brandon Knight or Sacramento's Arron Afflalo. Both Knight and Afflalo are established scorers with good shooting range, and their defensive impact is essentially negligible when compared to Ellis. But even if these players' contracts do align with Ellis', would Phoenix or Sacramento even be willing to pull the trigger on an aging, ball-dominant shooting guard who, again, is playing like it is the tail-end of his career and still has 2 more years left on his current deal?
If the Pacers do end up keeping Ellis, then one option might be to try and move Brooks in exchange for a shooter. The Brooks signing has been a disaster, but his contract is small enough that Indiana could find a potential suitor. My ideal choice for trade would be for Brooklyn's Bojan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic is in the final year of his contract and is shooting 37.8% from three-point range on a career-high 5.0 attempts per game. Since Bogdanovic is already 28 years old, other teams looking to add shooting might look elsewhere for a player with more upside, allowing the Pacers to make their move. Bogdanovic's shooting would be an instant upgrade for a bench unit that is only getting consistent production from Al Jefferson, CJ Miles, and Stuckey when healthy. Adding another shooter would help the spacing for Miles on the wing, and it would open up the paint more easily for Jefferson to score on the low block.
A move like a trade for Bogdanovic is the only true option for the Pacers this season due to the construction of the roster. The bench has been Indiana's weak link for the entire Paul George era, and solidifying it at the deadline would strongly support the Pacers' playoff push in the East.