Indiana Pacers: Victor Oladipo is the X-factor this weird offseason

Victor Oladipo - (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)
Victor Oladipo - (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images) /

GM Kevin Pritchard’s biggest offseason decision – should he keep or deal Victor Oladipo?

Victor Oladipo was mesmerizing in his first year with the Indiana Pacers.  He was a perfect fit with a team and city that embraced him as a breath of fresh air after Paul George big-timed his way out of town – just up the road from Indiana University, the place where he briefly launched the Hoosiers back to national relevance.

Now Oladipo may pull a Paul George if the Pacers don’t meet his demand for a contract that would have made sense when he was a pre-injury all-star.  But Victor is neither pre-injury nor currently an all-star caliber player.

In his 2020 return, Oladipo was ordinary – sadly ordinary.  Gone was the bounce, explosiveness, and defensive quickness.  In the bubble, Oladipo added a strange defensive indifference to his diminished athleticism.  He occasionally turned to watch the ball instead of staying with his man.  Resulting back-cuts turned into easy baskets for the Miami Heat as they swept the Pacers.

Can the Pacers count on Oladipo to regain his physical prowess, or should they accept an offer for his services during the final year of a four-year/$84 million contract?  That’s the question that will be answered by Pritchard and the rest of the big brains in the Pacers front office over the next six weeks.

If only it was that simple.  Oladipo staying put is not entirely up to Pritchard.  If he wants out, the Pacers would likely deal him to get something in return.  If he wants to stay, Pritchard will try to get him for somewhere south of the max deal he would have commanded if not for the injury and prolonged rehab.

That’s a lot to consider as Pritchard plots his team’s future with or without its mercurial star.  Just as he hopes Nate Bjorkgren can develop schemes to both score and defend with Myles Turner and Domas Sabonis on the floor together, the same question exists for Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon.  Neither is a prototypical point guard, and they seem to coexist uneasily.

There is also the consideration of Oladipo’s desire to be a star.  He is an accomplished vocalist who captivated millions on The Masked Singer.  Some stars have a tough time sacrificing as needed to become a champion, and champions are sometimes too selfless to become a star.  This is a road the Pacers have been down before when Ron Artest left the team to focus on his “music.”  Oladipo is not as flighty as Artest was, so he is not going to bounce in the middle of a season, but hobbies for athletes are great in moderation.

No one doubts Oladipo’s work ethic.  Stories of his early mornings and late nights at the St. Vincent’s Center are legendary.  That’s the conundrum of Oladipo, and likely the reason the Pacers are his third team despite his formerly prodigious abilities.  Whether he will be playing for a fourth (or fifth) a year from now is the question.

I know the job of writing about athletes like Oladipo is to stake out ground, plant a flag, and defend it, but he makes that impossible.  The reasons to keep him are as high as the reasons to try to move him to a team more willing to accept what may be another stage or two of rehab.  It might be worth it for a team like the Knicks or Mavericks to take a flier on a one-year rental with a minimum reward of $21 million in cap relief.

Whether the Pacers are willing to trade Oladipo is going to depend upon the return he can generate.  He is a little like your house.  You might love your current home, but if some nut rolls up with a sack of cash $100,000 beyond its market value, you will buy boxes, rent a truck, and be out before sunrise.

Whether Oladipo loves Pritchard and Pritchard loves him back, for the right price, it’s adios!

Tomorrow, we’ll look at five reasons why keep Oladipo is the right move for the Pacers. Thursday, those arguments will be countered by another five reasons he should be dealt.

Next. Best/worst options for Oladipo. dark