The Indiana Pacers were faced with a bit of a dilemma at the 2019 NBA trade deadline.
Victor Oladipo had just gone down with a gruesome quad injury weeks before that would keep him out for the remainder of the season and the first several months of the following season. The Pacers were 32-15, good enough to hold steady even without their best player for a playoff spot.
Once they got there, though, who would man the offense and take the big shots? Who would be their guy with VO out? It was a struggle to see how the Pacers would be much of a force in the 2019 playoffs.
The team faced an identity crisis, one that they would go on to remedy in the offseason when they brought in players like Malcolm Brogdon. But any changes done mid-season in 2019 would be band-aid fixes and alter the way the team built moving forward.
Though trades are complex, the deadline comes down to a pair of high-level decisions — Make a deal or don’t.
The Pacers opted to not make any deals at the 2019 trade deadline, something that I believe was the incorrect move at the time and in retrospect.
Firstly, I understand and can even appreciate the logic behind not making a deal in 2019.
I can see an argument for standing pat and heading into the unknown with the roster as it was constructed. Though Oladipo was out the Pacers had some strong defenders and offensive weapons that looked prepared to shoulder the load for the remainder of the season.
I’ve also heard it explained that a good reason to stand pat is to maintain relationships with players and agents to get more favorable contracts down the road or (especially as a small market team) to even get the meetings with players and agents in the first place.
Again, all logical lines of thinking. Still the wrong choice.
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The Indiana Pacers should have sought out trades centered on expiring players in 2019.
At the deadline, expiring contracts are extremely valuable to highly competitive teams.
Many top seeds looking to finish out their roster and lock in for the playoffs will part with first and second-round picks for quality expiring players. They don’t strangle-hold the team’s cap space for years to come and can be the final pieces to put the team over the top and compete for the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy.
The Pacers had Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Cory Joseph, and Kyle O’Quinn on their roster, all four of those players were on expiring contracts.
Young brings solid defense to the table. Bogdanovic is a great shooter and defender. Joseph and O’Quinn likely wouldn’t have yielded much in a trade but were still attractive depth builders for competitive teams.
Again, I understand the logic of treating players right and that the Pacers generally don’t do things like move players when a selfish team-oriented opportunity presents itself. Treating players well in their final days with the team can be a difference-maker. These players remember how they’re treated and talk about that with other players around the league. Teams build reputations by how they handle the human element of roster building.
Kicking someone out the door while you still can just to get a second-round pick isn’t exactly the best way to build a positive reputation, even if it helps you gain in the short term.
That said, it’s not always just kicking players out the door. All of these players went on to sign elsewhere and not with the Pacers this summer. Many of them may have relished the opportunity to compete in the playoffs over getting swept in the first round to the Boston Celtics. Treating players right doesn’t always look one specific way, and it doesn’t always mean not trading them.
Gaining an asset and moving an expiring player can be good for the team and the player in the right scenario. Especially when the Pacers had given up assets to get some of these players (like Young in the Caris LeVert trade) in the first place, it would have positioned the team well for the future to get assets back while they still could.
Knowing that the Pacers would go on to sacrifice their 2020 first-round pick to secure Malcolm Brogdon, replenishing the draft pool (though still stacked with future picks) would not have been a terrible idea.
The Pacers don’t have very modern strategies when it comes to structuring their team. That’s OK, and as a small market team, I believe it’s often foresightful to go against the grain. The 2019 trade deadline should have been an exception.
Instead of making a savvy move to reinforce the team’s future in light of their best player being injured for the remainder of the season, the Pacers promised themselves an early playoff exit and moved into the future with fewer assets than they otherwise could have.