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NBA AM: Pacers Have Choices To Make

The Indiana Pacers have some tough choices to make.

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The Pacers Big Decision: The Indiana Pacers have been hit hard with injuries this year; not just to star guard Paul George, who suffered one of the more gruesome injuries in the sport during Team USA training this past summer in Las Vegas, either. They have also had key cogs miss time as well.

The Pacers are finally getting healthy, with guard George Hill making his return last night in Orlando. For the first time this season the Pacers have something to build from. The problem is as the trade deadline approaches on February 19, the Pacers have to decide whether to hold or cut bait, specifically as it pertains to forward David West and big man Roy Hibbert. Both hold options to be free agents this summer and there is a risk that both could walk from Indiana in the offseason and leave the Pacers with nothing to show for their considerable worth as assets.

Let’s start with where the Pacers’ mindset is: The biggest thing to keep in mind is that that Pacers know this season was derailed because of George’s injury and that had they had George in the lineup they would be substantially better than their current 16-30 record.

The other part is George has begun serious court work and conditioning, so the Pacers now have a sense that George can and likely will make a full recovery. George said last night that he was running, jumping and even dunking without issue. He still is not planning to play this season, knowing that he has to be patient with the process and let his body completely heal, but each day is bringing new confidence from George and renewed confidence from within the Pacers organization that they’ll get their star back next season. This is meaningful because as one source indicated, the Pacers owe it to George to have a competitive team ready for him.

That does not mean the Pacers won’t look at trades, because the sense is they really would, but the idea is there won’t be a fire sale simply because a few of their players have free agency options.

As for West, he said candidly last night that he had not given his contract option any real consideration and likely wouldn’t think about that until the season was over. He holds a player option worth $12.6 million for next season.

West knows that having a contract structured as his leads to trade rumors, simply because of the perception of availability given the uncertainty his deal provides.

West is happy in Indiana. He likes his team. He likes the system and style in which they play. West didn’t not seem like someone who is actively looking for the door, but his situation is far from decided.

Sources close to the process say West’s contract option hasn’t been discussed with the team and that they are simply planning for all contingencies.

Hibbert may be a slightly different story. There has been a sense that Hibbert would be opting out of his contract this summer, despite the fact that he can stay in his deal and earn $15.514 million next season. It’s not likely that Hibbert commands a starting salary of $15.5 million next season given that he hasn’t been a dominate player, but there is a sense that he can and likely will trade his remaining $15.5 million for a new multi-year deal that locks in more long-term security, even if it’s at a slightly lower annual price tag.

There is also a sense that Hibbert might want a change of scenery too, but like West that seems far from decided.

The Pacers will be actively involved in the trade deadline, namely because every team has to engage, especially if you are sitting at 16-30.

The sense in talking with Pacer insiders was that Indiana was not looking to blow the team up, which is a popular narrative. The sense was to keep looking to add and build until George returns next season and the Pacers can pick up where they left off a season ago.

It’s easy to forget that Indiana was the top team in the East a season ago, winning 68.3 percent of their games on the season; the season before that the Pacers were the third best team in the NBA, winning 60.5 percent of their games.

The overall belief is that given the age of their roster, the window for the Pacers is far from closed, but there are things that are somewhat out of their control and that’s a variable they know they may have to deal with.

There is no doubt that chatter about West and Hibbert will pick up as the deadline approaches, but the one thing the Pacers were pretty clear about is that it’s become increasingly hard to consummate a trade these days. While trades are a big part of the equation, the Pacers are not currently planning for a trade involving either guy, but that may be because they haven’t gotten an offer that makes sense yet.

Moving Joe Johnson?:  Yesterday Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Charlotte Hornets and Brooklyn Nets have renewed talks on a possible deal that would send Lance Stephenson, Gerald Henderson and Marvin Williams to Brooklyn in exchange for shooting guard Joe Johnson.

Sources close to this process have pegged Johnson as a player Hornets owner Michael Jordan has coveted for some time despite his enormous contract. Johnson is owed $23.18 million this season and a whopping $24.894 million next season.

The Hornets have found something of a groove as of late, winning eight of their last ten and sneaking into the eighth spot in the East, while the Nets have gone the other way losing eight of their last ten.

Sources close to the process say Brooklyn’s stance is changing pretty aggressively. They recently turned away an offer from the Oklahoma City Thunder that would have moved off center Brook Lopez in exchange for Thunder big man Kendrick Perkins and shooting guard Jeremey Lamb. The Nets had rebuffed overtures from Charlotte on Johnson as well.

A league source said based on recent conversations the Nets are not only looking seriously at a Johnson trade, there is a sense they will revisit the Thunder too, especially if something offering more value doesn’t materialize.

The Nets pulled away from Oklahoma City as there was a sense the Denver Nuggets might offer more value in a Lopez deal, but that seems to be a little bit in limbo as well.

The Nets being up for sale is another motivator in trying to move some of the their larger contracts in favor of smaller, easier to dispose deals.

For what it’s worth, neither deal seems to be close, rather more of a renewed conversation. Sources near the Nets say they are still shopping, but making a deal that sheds both Lopez and Johnson seems to be a priority before the February 19 NBA Trade Deadline and it seems Charlotte is trying to get in the dance again as well.

Changing History?:  From time to time I use this space to voice my opinion on things that are happening in this medium. As one of the pioneers in the digital media space having been here since 1997, I have a sense of duty to put perspective to some of the things that happen.

Yesterday a story broke regarding Chad Ford of ESPN.com and his draft rankings of players, with allegations that his rankings of draft prospects were retroactively changed to improve the rankings of players that have gone on to do well in the NBA, while lowering those players that may not have done well. The narrative is that this somehow makes Ford looks smarter.

ESPN has been investigating the issue and recently released a statement saying that after an internal review they found no evidence that Ford was involved and that he is adamantly denying any involvement personally. There is no doubt that the rankings were changed and that’s unfortunate, because I have been a long believer in the value of your history.

Unfortunately I was not able to bring all of our history with HOOPSWORLD to Basketball Insiders, that’s what happens when you sell something.

I think the history of where we had players ranked during the draft process is important, because it illustrates how wrong we may have been and when I say we, I mean the media, the insiders that leak to the media and the teams that actually drafted the players.

I don’t know if Ford manipulated his past rankings. But I do know this. I have known Chad Ford for almost two decades. We have competed with one another, we have traded barbs at each in stories and we have laughed and shared information with each other.

I don’t always agree with him, and I am sure he does not always agree with me, but what I can tell you is Ford is not a bad guy. Ford is not a sinister villain to be hated and he is good at the job he does.

I would argue that Jonathan Givony is better, but I am a little biased there too.

For what it’s worth: I believe Ford in his denials of involvement. I believe him because I know him. I believe him because I have spent time fighting against him, and at one time trying to lure him to our team. I believe Ford because there is nothing gained in this, all of us in the business know what was said when it was said and to retroactively change that does not change how we, as predictors of talent, are viewed. There is so much written about rankings that to think you could change things like this and it go unnoticed is a little insane.

There is no doubt that this situation is odd. There is doubt that this situation casts on Ford and that’s unfortunate.

You may or may not like him, but I can tell you having known him for as long as I have, he may be many things, but in this case I am not sure he is to blame.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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