As the trade deadline approaches, and the Pacers get a little much-needed downtime at the end of this week, I’ll be writing a three-part series about ways Indiana can use its abundance of cap space to acquire talent via trades. I’ll start with the least realistic options, then move to options that are more realistic, but still unlikely, and finally finish up with options that are both realistic and feasible.
I’ve noticed from interactions with Pacers fans via www.Indycornrows.com (a very good SBN Pacers site, equipped with an intelligent fan community and very knowledgable mods) that the Blue and Gold have three pressing needs:
1. An “independent” bench scorer (able to create his own shot)-Larry Bird tried to address this need last year with a failed deadline deal for Memphis combo guard, O.J. Mayo. He also attempted to address it on draft night with a trade for George Hill. Unfortunately, Hill has battled a fractured ankle, and even though he’ll be back soon, the Pacers have struggled creating offense within the second unit all year long.
2. A point guard upgrade-Darren Collison’s fan club is dwindling. Larry Bird has never seemed as enamored with Collison as fans were when the Pacers first acquired him. The gaudy assist numbers he put up in New Orleans during his rookie starting stint there seem now more of a product of a system, rather than a result of Collison’s NBA readiness. His slight frame and defensive lapses make him, at times, a bit of a liability, and he’s been especially exposed during George Hill’s absence, as Hill is a far superior perimeter defender. While acquiring a star point guard to take over for Collison seems unrealistic, it’s a need that should be explored, as this year’s draft is devoid of difference makers at the position in the Pacers’ projected draft range.
3. Post depth-The Pacers have a pretty effective three-man post rotation with Roy Hibbert, David West and Tyler Hansbrough. And when Jeff Foster is healthy, he’s among the most impactful players in the league, at least when it comes to gathering loose balls and rebounds. But Foster’s offensive limitations, and his balky back, have left the Pacers thin, at times, on the low block. It seems apparent that Indiana needs another big body who can at least play spot minutes at either PF or C.
So, as I said, in this installment I will cover four longshots. These are players who are unlikely to ever wear Pacers uniforms, but who could, in our wildest fantasies, be acquired via trade within the next month.
Strengths: Great spot-up shooter. Can score in a variety of ways. Unlimited range and a willingness to shoot in clutch situations.
Weaknesses: Not a tremendous defender. Not a creator with the ball in his hands; works best playing off the ball with a solid point guard. Just turned 29, and is at the tail-end of his prime.
The Trade: Indiana gets Kevin Martin, Los Angeles gets Luis Scola, Dahntay Jones and Dwight Howard, Houston gets Pau Gasol and a conditional 2013 first round pick (from Indiana), Orlando gets Andrew Bynum and one unconditional 2012 first round pick (from Los Angeles)
* The Pacers do it to add a better scoring option than Paul George to the starting rotation. Kevin Martin has had spells of unhappiness so far this year in Houston, regarding his playing time, and he’d be an instant starter for Indiana, sending George to the bench to upgrade the scoring and defense of the Pacers’ second unit. Martin is only signed through the end of next season, at $12.9 million, at which point the Pacers would have enough expiring money to either offer him an extension, or they could trade him at the deadline of that season for more assets. Essentially, for the cost of some cap space and a future draft pick for a potentially short-term, low-risk add, they upgrade their offense immediately and tremendously.
* The Rockets tried to ship off Scola and Marting for Gasol in the off-season, but the trade, that would have also sent Chris Paul to Los Angeles, was vetoed. This is essentially the same deal, but they get a future pick from Indiana.
* At first glance this trade looks much worse for the Lakers than the Chris Paul trade would have been, but it immediately shaves about $4 million off of the team’s current payroll (though this is probably still not enough for them to avoid paying luxury tax). It also gives them Dwight Howard’s Bird Rights, which will be valuable if he chooses to long-term in LA (and the deal would only be possible if he agreed to that beforehand). Finally, it clears up enough cap space for the Lakers to afford offering a point guard like Jeremy Lin (born in LA, by the way) the mid level exception next season without going over the luxury tax threshold. If Lin continues playing as well as he has this season, combining him with Howard, Scola and Kobe Bryant has easily as much appeal as a Paul/Bryant/Bynum/Gasol combo would have had.
* Orlando gets a 85% of Howard’s production for 85% of the cost, plus a draft pick, which is a lot better than losing Howard for nothing.
Chances of Actually Happening: <1%
Mega-trades like this have a way of rarely happening. But Indiana’s willingness and ability to take on salary will be crucial for trade discussions as the deadline approaches.
Strengths: Uncanny vision; among the league’s best facilitators. Tough, athletic with great measurables and a top-notch perimeter defender. Still young, as he just celebrated his 25th birthday.
Weaknesses: Would probably be on a max, or near-max deal if it weren’t for questions about his lack of perimeter scoring and his attitude. Has a rumored cancerous lockerroom presence, which, if true, could kill a young team like Indiana.
* The only thing Indiana risks with a trade like this one is pushing the luxury tax threshold this summer when it comes time to offer Roy Hibbert an extension. Otherwise, Rondo immediately upgrades the point guard situation and puts the Pacers squarely in the Eastern Conference elite conversation. O’Neal coming home to Indiana is purely a salary cap-related acquisition, but if he can provide spot minutes at the center position (something Hansbrough has failed to do consistently), that’s an added bonus and another need filled, and is low-risk, as O’Neal is expiring.
* Danny Ainge would only consider this trade if he decided to rebuild in mid-year, and chances are he gets better offers for Rondo if he floats his name out there. The Lakers have two first rounders, and could dump some salary on a team like Indiana to bring Rondo west. But Indiana’s ability to take back $13 million in cap excess in this trade puts Boston very close to the luxury tax threshold, and perhaps another spare part thrown in could save the Celtics some tax money. It might even be worth it for the Pacers to sweeten a deal like this with another future draft pick.
Chances of Actually Happening: 5%
The Celtics are playing well enough right now to stick with Rondo until they can either completely blow up the team, or indefinitely build around him for the future.
Strengths: The league’s best passer; a Hall of Fame-level distributor and floor leader. Still an offensive threat from beyond 20 feet and in the mid-range areas. A proven winner and a very classy, savvy vet.
Weaknesses: Never known for his defense or athleticism. 38 years old and coming up on free agency; will need to promise an extension to any team that trades for him.
* Like the Rondo trade, this idea (actually originally mentioned by ESPN/Grantland’s Bill Simmons) puts the Pacers into the Eastern Conference’s upper echelon, at least for the time being. Nash is still the best pure passing point guard in the NBA, and his pick and roll/pop execution would make the Pacers exponentially better on offense. The best part, of course, would be how little Indiana would probably have to give up to bring him in, given his age and contract status. In the something-for-nothing realm, Nash is a pretty big “something.”
* Phoenix has rumbled about shipping Nash off for the last several months, and now may be the time. If they feel as though they can’t extend him for the final two years of his career without stifling a much-needed rebuilding process, saving over $9 million immediately and snagging a draft pick may be the best-case scenario.
Chances of Actually Happening: 10%
Nash loves it in Phoenix, and has been classy about the trade chatter. He’s a fan-favorite, and the Suns have plenty of open money next season to keep him around, even if it’s not in their best interests for rebuilding.
Strengths: Physically dominant for a point guard. Does everything a point guard is supposed to do well, and is quite a bit better than most. A true difference maker, and one of the league’s best young stars. No true weaknesses.
Weaknesses: Has been exposed on a bad team as having what appears to be a lack of motivation. Is coming up on a free agency period, if he exercises his early termination option, and like Nash, will have to promise an extension to any team that trades for him.
* Take however seriously you’d have to consider the Pacers for Eastern Conference title contention with a Nash or Rondo trade, and multiply that sentiment by 5 with a Williams trade. He’s the missing piece. He provides the go-to scorer the Pacers so desperately need, and improves the point guard position, thus knocking out two of the team’s three biggest needs in one trade. The Pacers would do this trade in a heartbeat, if Williams agreed to extend.
* New Jersey is still holding out for a way to acquire Dwight Howard, but if he gets traded to a team like the Lakers before the deadline, the Nets may do anything the can to prepare for Williams walking away this off-season by exercising his ETO. Saving $13 million, acquiring two young players (who would both be near start-worthy on that team) and two more picks would make failing to keep Williams happy (and eventually losing him) easier to stomach.
Chances of Actually Happening: <0.1%
Williams is unlikely to agree to long-term with a team like Indiana. Even if he does, there’s currently very little motivation for New Jersey to part ways with him at the deadline, while they still have the summer to try to convince him to stay.
Lucas Klipsch is a Professor Emeritus of Grilling and Smoking Meats. He is currently on hiatus. Follow him on Twitter @LukeNukem317