Rajon Rondo. LaMarcus Aldridge. Ricky Rubio. Goran Dragic. Rudy Gay. DeAndre Jordan. Marc Gasol. Brook Lopez. Any two of these guys are the ultimate prize. Just imagine the way a trio of Goran Dragic, Paul George, and Marc Gasol would look. Or George, Rondo, and Aldridge? Or even Rubio, George, and Lopez? Any combination of these players together on the Pacers is an instant contender. The way this becomes a reality for Larry Bird and co.? 2015 free agency. Let’s take a look at the steps the Pacers need to take to shed the salary necessary to free up the necessary money.
The Move: trade David West to Toronto for Amir Johnson and Landry Fields
The Pacers realize that the savvy veteran presence of David West is now useless on a bottom feeder team like themselves. By trading David West to the Raps, they escape out from underneath his $12 million player option for next season. They also bring back two big expiring deals that will free up over $13 million in cap space for the summer of 2015. That is money to be spent on free agents mentioned above. They also get back two solid players who replace David West and Paul George in the starting lineup. This move is nearly 100% a money trade, but the Pacers have to play somebody this season.
The Raptors are even bigger winners than the Pacers in this deal, as they bring in a guy who brings a needed veteran talent to the frontcourt. With young Jonas Valanciunas finally coming into his own, he needs a mentor like David West to teach him the ropes. Also, the Raps are 1-2 pieces away from contention right now, and the addition of David West instantly makes them the third best team out East. He gives them the toughness they need to compete with Chicago and Cleveland. He also stretches the floor more than previous starter Amir Johnson, which could do wonders for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Toronto’s top two players.
The Move: trade Roy Hibbert to New York for Iman Shumpert and Andrea Bargnani
The Logic: Another money move, bringing back Andrea Bargnani’s expiring $11+ million deal is a huge win for the Pacers organization. They get that money, as well as Iman Shumpert’s final year of his rookie contract, off the books, creating nearly $13 more million in cap space for next summer. The Pacers have been shopping Hibbert around and, as NBC’s Kurt Helin put it, “The one thing to take away from all this is that the Pacers are considering all their options right now. If they can find a partner with a good offer they will move anyone on the roster not named Paul George..”. Getting Hibbert, now a huge disappointment, out of Indiana and turning him into some valuable cap space and a good young player in Shumpert is the best thing Indiana can do right now.
For New York, the deal is simple. Hibbert still has value, and that will be tested on the reinvented Knicks. They also get to shed some bad salary in Bargnani. Hibbert has shut down Carmelo before, so imagine how great it would be for NY to pair those two together in a possible scary center-small forward duo. NY is looking for young talent and Hibbert still qualifies for that. Just because Indiana doesn’t want him doesn’t mean he is not still a 7’2′ center with high upside remaining. A lineup of Calderon, Hardaway Jr., Melo, A’mare, Hibbert is a solid lineup and possible 7 or 8 seed in the East as early as this season.
The Move: trade George Hill to Sacramento for Derrick Williams and Reggie Evans
The Logic: In one last money move, Indiana secures their tanking for money scheme. Shipping starting point guard George Hill for the expiring deals of Derrick Williams and Reggie Evans gets Indiana out from $8 million going to Hill next season. The Pacers need this money (or lack thereof) to be able to sign 2 of the free agents listed above and fill the team with solid role players, so this move is a necessity. They bring back two big forwards who have contracts that expire after the season, so who the players are doesn’t really matter – the Pacers are unlikely to resign either of them. Still, the move fits the scheme and that is all it needs to do.
For Sacramento, they get a point guard that can come in and start right away. Yes, they signed Darren Collison to a 3 year $16 million deal, but they can afford to bring Hill on. Hill and Collison are very fast and can run the offense alongside Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore. Hill can work it down low to DMC (Demarcus Cousins), and the Kings can finally start to try and win again. Wouldn’t that be nice for Kings management, to start winning games? They have the talent, and now they would have the floor general.
With these hypothetical trades, the Pacers would only have $22,049,500 + future draft picks in committed money for the 2015 offseason. That comes out to roughly $43,950,500 to spend on the names like Rondo, Aldridge, Rubio, Lopez, etc. as well as free agents to round out the bench. In fact, if the team declines the team option of Solomon Hill that summer, then the Pacers would have just Paul George, Ian Mahinmi, and Damjan Rudez on the roster. Not a bad three guys to sign others around.
If Indiana could sign Rondo, Rubio, or Dragic at point guard and throw LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, or Brook Lopez down low, and get back a healthy Paul George, this team is instantly one of the scariest in the East. Imagine this change just a year after the whole 2014-2015 season was shot in the heart with a Paul George injury. They would have the money and likely the free agent appeal. If they follow these steps, it is possible that it just could become a reality for this gritty Eastern conference organization.
Better pick up the phone, Mr. Bird.