Back in December, the Pacers used their amnesty provision, a one-time forgiveness to remove any one player’s contract from your team’s book for salary cap purposes allowable under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, on James Posey. Then, with his onerous $7.1 million deal instantly turned into cap space, Larry Bird did … nothing.
Many presumed that he would use that new-found money to fill one of the team’s needs, the most glaring of which seemed to be a scorer in the back court. They (sorta) tried to woo Jamal Crawford, for instance, with no success. There was a lot of talk surrounding Indiana trading for OJ Mayo, but again no dice. Bird was seemingly unwilling to pay a price that he thought was too high to for anyone on the market.
Many fans were disappointed. But Bird has long said that there could be significant benefits to being below the salary cap even during the season.
And now we’re seeing that in action as Bird just swung a deal in which he gave up essentially nothing (a second-round draf pick) to acquire instant-offense combo guard Leandro Barbosa from the Toronto Raptors. (In the deal, he perhaps also acquired Anthony Carter, who would presumably be end of the bench fodder who Toronto preferred not to pay for the rest of the season and told Indy they needed to take in order to get Barbosa for free. I haven’t seen this confirmed or refuted. Just scuttlebutt. UPDATE: Carter is in the deal. UPDATE PART II: Indianapolis Star beat writer for the Pacers Mike Wells is refuting that earlier
ESPN AP report.)
Being below the salary cap by roughly $14 million meant that Bird was able to absorb Barbosa’s contract, which is an expiring $7.6 million deal that ends after this season, without having to send back any salary to the Raptors, whose motivation for unloading the Brazilian Blur was likely just that they are no longer really trying to win games this season, don’t see him as part of their long-term future, and were attempting to lower payroll expenses.
While it was a savvy move to sit on this cap space and wait for the right deal, it is not immediately apparent how Barbosa, a former Sixth Man of the Year Award winner for the Phoenix Suns in 2006-07, will fit into the Pacers rotation. Paul George and Darren Collison seem entrenched as the starting back court, as they should, and George Hill, who has been the Pacers best player during their current two-game winning streak, is definitely the team’s sixth man. He is the first guard off the bench and almost exclusively plays the two-guard, both beside Darren Collison and AJ Price.
While Leandro may be a more dynamic scorer than Hill in some ways, it seems doubtful that he would actually take any of his minutes. Hill is the better two-way player and seems to have become the leader of the second-unit. And while many fans are clamoring for Hill to play the point, many wanting him to take Darren Collison’s starting job for some reason, the numbers clearly show that he has thrived playing at the 2-guard and the team has struggled when he has run the offense.
Most of his best stretches of play this season have come while Price has brought the ball up and initiated the play. Often these plays quickly make Hill the primary ball-handler, but make no mistake: this is Hill creating opportunities from the off-guard spot not having a nuanced understanding of when to call his number and when to facilitate the offense through others. He rarely is tasked with the distributing duties that Collison and Price have manned for most of this successful 2011-12 campaign for Indiana.
Thus, when does Barbosa play?
I’m not sure, presuming there are not other trades made before the deadline in two-and-a-half hours. I know he will get some minutes. And while I can’t say I have watched a ton of Raptors games this season, I do know that Leandro can still put the ball in the hoop. So I’m sure that, once he gets on the floor, he will earn even more minutes.
Dahntay Jones is another Pacer who many fans want to see less of on the court. So some may presume coach Frank Vogel can just give his minutes to Barbosa. Jones, however, has played almost exclusively at the small forward so far this year. He has been Danny Granger’s back-up.(Or, perhaps from an Xs and Os standpoint he has played more 2 than I am accounting for here. But if that’s the case, he has been playing the 2 while Paul George is playing the 3. I’m honestly not sure, but I believe when those two are on the court together, it has been George playing his normal two guard slot and Dahntay at the small forward.)
And while Barbosa doesn’t fit the traditional position archetype — he’s either a small shooting guard or a horrible-distributing point guard — he certainly isn’t a small forward. And while I think having him out there with Hill in the backcourt could be effective in spurts, I doubt it becomes something we will see often. Perhaps, then, Barbosa can play some 2 and Paul George does move over to play more 3? Vogel has mentioned that George would likely be seeing more time at the small forward in the future.
I don’t know. But unless we presume Dahntay Jones, who to my eyes has played pretty well this year other than those two brainfarts against Miami, becomes glued to the bench, it seems unlikely that Barbosa will become a major part of the rotation.
Ultimately, with Paul George and George Hill already performing rather well at the shooting guard spot, and Barbosa really unable to play anywhere else, this trade seems like it is a rich guy going out and buying a top-of-the-line Nissan Z when he already has a Benz sedan and BMW coupe in the garage: it’s an altogether unnecessary luxury to have but, hey, you’re rich, so why not? If something happens to the Beamer (who is the oft-injured-so-far-this-year Germany coupe in this metaphor), you can still get around town in the Nissan.
And let’s not forget that Barbosa can score in bunches and will force Vogel to leave him out there at times when he has it going regardless of any preconceived notions regarding rotations. I can already picture him hitting his fourth three in the third quarter of a first round playoff series game during which he drops 24 points. He can heat up like that in a hurry. And he has the quickness and penetrating ability to dart to the hoop in the half-court like nobody else on the roster. There’s a reason I used the Nissan Z as his car double. And there’s a reason he got the nickname Blur.
So while Leandro Barbosa may not be altogether necessary, he is nice thing to have. If you can get it. Which Larry Bird ensured would be possible months ago.
(Footnote: I couldn’t fit this into this reaction piece organically, but just wanted to note that getting Barbosa means the Pacers are almost certainly out of the running to acquire Chris Kaman, who reportedly also may have been available for just a second-round draft pick.
I don’t know if Bird’s decision to target Leandro instead means that the Hornets got a better offer or simply that Larry prefers Barbosa for this team, but with Jeff Foster seemingly relegated to back trouble all year, the backup center spot is very thin. Lou Amundson has been an admirably fill in, but he isn’t a center.
Then again, who really needs centers anymore? Perhaps a quick guard who can get buckets is more valuable in today’s NBA. I don’t know. Just worth considering.)