Pacers trade deadline primer: Focusing on the present with an eye on the future

Will the Pacers be a team that pulls the trigger on a deal before the trade deadline at 3:00 pm ET Thursday? Hours before the deadline, that part is unclear.

But that’s how they operate. Led by President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird, Pacers executives, seemingly more than most, keep their thoughts and intentions in house.

What we do know at this point is that the Pacers have to be realistic about the direction of the franchise. Look, we have all seen that this is not a championship contending roster. The ceiling is probably the second round of the playoffs.

To win in today’s NBA, you need three stars. Minimum. The Pacers have one right now in Paul George. Second-year center Myles Turner has shown great signs that he will elevate into that category. But not yet. Still, they are at least one star short, plus in desperate need to shore up the bench.

Monta Ellis is on the books for another two years (for almost $23 million). C.J. Miles ($4.7 million) and Rodney Stuckey ($7 million) have player options they surely won’t exercise if they’re healthy. Al Jefferson is owed $9.7 million next year, Thad Young almost $15 million.

[Paul George spends part of trade-deadline day filming a new commercial]

George is the big number, though. He is the face of the franchise, a four-time All-Star. Players shouldn’t get caught up in year-end awards but if you are George, how could you not? Should PG be named to one of three All NBA teams, as he has to the Third Team three times over five healthy seasons (2013, 2014, 2016), then he would qualify for the Designated Player Extension (DPE).

That new clause in the recently signed Collective Bargaining Agreement would allow the Pacers to offer George a substantial raise on his contract, plus another year. If the Pacers had it their way, they would love for George to qualify for the DPE, and to sign him to a five-year extension this summer. Therefore, he’d be under contract for another six years, until he’s 33, and would earn well over $34 million per season.

Without it, the Pacers lose that enticement.

As it currently stands, through 57 games, it doesn’t appear likely that George is selected to an All NBA team. But that can change. (He is averaging 22.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game.)

Paul George fulfilled a childhood dream last year, playing for Team USA.

That would be a great deal for George to remain in Indy for the foreseeable future. But he’s not going to “waste” years when he’s in his prime.

[Amid rumors, Paul George vows to stay with Pacers]

I was told back in August that the number one factor in whether George would sign a contract extension with the Pacers — which he has been eligible to do since the fall — is the chance to win. He tasted success early, battling Miami in back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals. That’s what he wants, more of that.

This was George on the record at the end of July talking about the Bird reshaping the roster ahead of the 2016-17 season.

“I’m still young and I can carry a team, I feel,” George said, in Chicago with Team USA before the Rio Olympics. “So I’m glad he’s not letting me waste years. He’s putting talent around me, helping me get to what we all want to accomplish and that’s a championship.

“I think Larry and them have expressed how bad they want to get to it [the Eastern Conference Finals] by these moves this offseason. I’m looking forward to getting us back there. Like I always say, it’s on me now.

“Now this is my solo opportunity of really being the leader and really being the locker room voice. Looking forward to it. Really looking forward to it. I’m going to make the heck out of it.”

At the All-Star break, the 29-28 Pacers are sixth in the East, three and a half games out of fifth and two games ahead of eighth-place Detroit. This is a playoff team, but they have struggled to come together as a bunch. The lack of chemistry has been clear.

“We have to learn to play with one another,” George said one week ago. “… Everybody’s got to like playing with one another on that court. And it should show. Chemistry should definitely come out of that.”

What the Pacers can’t afford to do is to make a jerk reaction before the trade deadline. Fans like to see a move for one because, well, it’s fun. For another, they’re interested in the future, the what-if rather than the present. That’s not how front office conduct business. Bird is patient, he is calculated, and he isn’t one to make rash decisions.

Historically, the Pacers sit tight during the trade deadline.

Pacers executives must focus on the present with an eye constantly on the future. Can they reshape the roster over the next year or two and compete in the East, or would they be better off planning for A.L. — after LeBron, who turned 32 in December.

George is the key piece, he has a chance to go down as the best Pacer in NBA history. And that appeals to the Palmdale, California native.

“I don’t want you guys to take this out of context, but he’s somebody that I look at and at the end of the day, I want to say I was the best Pacer to play here,” George said three years ago. “He set the bar high, he set the limits high and that’s just out of respect.

“I feel like if I get to that point and the next up-and-coming guy is ready to take that, I’ll be all for it. I just want to challenge him for it and it’s another bar that I can set, and be happy to accomplish.”

[Paul George excelling at the free throw line]

If George isn’t going to re-sign in Indy, the Pacers have to learn from the Oklahoma City Thunder’s mistake in letting Kevin Durant walk without getting anything in return. And that’s why the Pacers continue to gather intel and get a feel for the market … if they ultimately get to that point.

George to VigilantSports.com on his contract last August: “Keep playing it out right now. When it gets to that point where it’s time to be extended, I’ll have that talk with my family, with myself, with Larry. I’ll figure what’s the best situation.”

3 Responses to Pacers trade deadline primer: Focusing on the present with an eye on the future
  1. Brad Rodgers
    February 23, 2017 | 12:21 pm

    Must keep PG. It’s not only the best move for the present, but for the future. Mules Turner is the second piece to the equation. I think keeping Jeff Teague is important as well. He has surprised e with his play. The front office should strongly consider how they keep those 3 players for an extended period of time, allowing the chemistry to grow while adding one more key player. Brook Lopez could potentially lead to a deeper playoff run and better offensive chemistry, especially since his outside offensive game has been developing. His defensive presence is questionable though.

  2. NattyBumpo1948
    February 23, 2017 | 12:51 pm

    First of all, the best Pacer ever was Roger Brown. Always will be… I’m pretty sure PG never even saw Roger play, so he has no idea where the bar is set. If Reggie Miller couldn’t do it, and Jermaine O’Neal couldn’t do it, then PG has no shot. But if he can get Indy to the championship series and then win it, he’ll probably be remembered as the best Pacer ever.

    • Scott Agness
      February 23, 2017 | 5:29 pm

      Reread my post: “the best Pacer in NBA history”

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