In the first game of the 2012 playoffs, the Chicago Bulls’ biggest fear happened – Derrick Rose went down with a knee injury that robbed him of a potential championship run and the following season.
In just his 10th game back in action last year, another knee injury stole another year from the former MVP. In neither case did Bulls’ General Manager Gar Forman make a knee-jerk reaction in which he dismantled the team and shipped out any of Rose’s long-time teammates such as Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, or replace head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose heavy playing time has been criticized at various points throughout his career. Those moves would have forced Rose to learn a new system and build chemistry with his new teammates, all while knocking the rust off of his game.
Fast-forward to the 2014 offseason and what must have felt like an agonizingly long patient wait, Chicago’s commitment to their roster paid off, thanks to said patience and thanks to a non-knee-jerk decision to amnesty former forward Carlos Boozer when they first had the chance . The emergence of Jimmy Butler made a crafty salary dump trade which sent out Luol Deng didn’t hurt either. Add up all of that, and now Chicago has two-time champ and four-time All-Star Pau Gasol.
After Indiana Pacers’ All-Star Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury in early August, the blue and gold’s biggest offseason question went from how they would keep up with the suddenly-stronger Eastern Conference to whether or not they should dismantle the team for a higher draft pick – more commonly known as “tanking.”
Well, the “to tank or not to tank” question has been answered by Bird and Frank Vogel in their recent press conference, so we can rule that out. But there have been plenty of rumors this summer already, mainly surrounding Roy Hibbert. He’s been involved in rumors and theories connected to Detroit, Phoenix, Milwaukee, and Denver. Obviously, it very difficult for two teams to evenly win a trade. Just too many variables. Which is why the Pacers MUST be very careful with any potential trades.
To trade Roy Hibbert now, would be in response only to his back-half of the season and parts of the post-season. Don’t get me wrong, there was some atrocious play in there for #55, but to trade him on that alone would be way too reactionary. Additionally, this is the core that Bird was planning on building around and planned out future salary cap accordingly. The smartest trade would be one that wouldn’t add future salary in the coming years, barring a trade offer that blows the team out of the water.
Why should they not add salary? Because the list of realistic free agents the Pacers could bring in in 2015 and/or 2016 is very enticing. According to Basketball Reference, if the Pacers do nothing right now, all of the following players can or will come off the books next summer: Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, Donald Sloan, Chris Copeland, Shayne Whittington, Lavoy Allen, Solomon Hill, and Rodney Stuckey. All that adds up to about $13.5 million, not counting what would be put toward the team’s 2015 draft pick, assuming they keep this one, and they’d want to stay under the cap enough to leave some flexibility. And if Roy Hibbert and David West elect not to opt out of their current deals next summer, that leaves about $11 million to replace eight players.
That’s not a lot, which is why they should only trade for other expiring contracts or salary dumps. Here’s a short list of the players who could find themselves on the free agent market:
Paul Millsap, Rajon Rondo, Tristan Thompson, Kenneth Faried, Arron Afflalo, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, Jeremy Lin, Luol Deng, Reggie Jackson, Thaddeus Young, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, LaMarcus Aldridge, Klay Thompson, Amir Johnson.
Some of those players will be restricted free agents, such as Faried, the Thompsons, and Jackson, and it would be tough to convince a guy like DeAndre Jordan to spurn the bright lights of Los Angeles for Indianapolis. Such is life as a small-market NBA team. Which leaves the blue-collar guys like Amir Johnson, Thaddeus Young, and Paul Millsap that Bird adores. Millsap has been one of the more underrated players in the Association the last few years (that’s what happens when you play on a middle-of-the-road team in Utah), and managed to sign a very reasonable contract that paid him $10 million a year in Atlanta.
So, for those clamoring for a trade just because Roy Hibbert or George Hill or whoever didn’t have a good playoffs should remember the bigger picture. If there is a trade offer that could somehow net Rondo in a trade that would include him signing long-term, should the Pacers do it? Of course, barring the deal being completely one-sided. But I bring up the free agents-to be, mainly to remind everyone that a trade is not as simple about trimming the dead weight. It’s about improving the team, all while not handcuffing the roster financially either. Would moving Hibbert solely to move him really be worth losing out on a potential free agent like a Rondo, Horford, Jordan, or insert name here? Not in my opinion.
When Bird said he wanted to stay the course, he meant with the roster. George will be back, it’s just a matter of when. The Chicago Bulls stayed the course when they could have panicked and responded accordingly. They didn’t and now their patience has been rewarded by being in the upper crust of the league’s teams on paper. It’s now the Pacers’ turn to traverse into this uncharted territory.
Unlike the Bulls though, hopefully Indiana only has to do it once.