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Picking Pacers: Indiana Ready To Rebuild

Things in Indiana have not gone the way the organization had envisioned. The Pacers are finally keen on the idea of a rebuild, and they have some quality pieces that will likely be on the move.

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Trade talks are beginning to heat up around the league and several teams have already been identified as sellers this season. One of those reported teams is Indiana, which had lofty expectations entering the year. The roster remained largely unchanged from last season, but they added an incredibly talented rookie in Chris Duarte and brought back Rick Carlisle as head coach. They got off to a brutal 1-6 start and have not been able to right the ship.

The Pacers have recently begun to listen to trade offers for their top players, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Caris LeVert. Another name that would be enticing to teams is Malcolm Brogdon, but since he signed an extension this summer, he is not eligible to be traded this season. Still, there is plenty of exceptional talent on this roster that could soon be on the move.

Since their plans for a rebuild became public, the team has responded with improved play on the floor. Indiana has won three straight games but they host the Warriors tonight and face the Bucks in Milwaukee on Wednesday. They close the year with games against the Heat, Rockets, Bulls (twice), Hornets, and Cavaliers. It will be a tough stretch for a team that is reportedly about to hit the reset button.

This is the week where things will start to gain momentum. Of the 446 players in the NBA, only 65 percent are eligible to be traded right now. That changes on Wednesday when 84 percent of the players in the league can be moved. Indiana will have plenty of options leading up to the February 10 trade deadline, but what is their best course of action?

The two key pieces here are Turner and Sabonis. The organization has tried for years to make it work with these two on the floor at the same time, but they finally appear to be ready to move on from the “Turbonus” experiment. Turner, the longest-tenured player on the roster, had an interesting comment last week. “It’s clear that I’m not valued as anything more than a glorified role player here,” he said. “I want something more, more opportunity. I’m not valued as more than a rotational role player, and I hold myself in a higher regard than that.”

Turner holds a high value around the league as an elite rim protector and versatile offensive player, though he lacks consistency on that end of the floor. He currently leads the league in blocks per game, which is nothing new. He led the NBA in that category last season (3.4 per game) and also did it during the 2018-19 season. The 25-year old will be highly coveted by several teams around the league.

The 11th overall pick out of Texas wants to have more freedom and responsibility on the floor but has not yet shown the ability to be that type of player. He is a career 36 percent shooter from deep and has often struggled with rebounding. A change of scenery will likely offer him a different role, where he just might be able to realize his potential.

Indiana will have a high asking price for Turner, but Sabonis might actually yield them a better return. The two-time All-Star has 21 double-doubles this season and ranked fourth in that category last season. He recorded nine triple-doubles last year and is a serious weapon on offense. The Pacers do not have a traditional starting point guard, and Sabonis has been playing a point forward role with this team.

When he gets position in the paint, Sabonis is a force to be reckoned with. His brute strength and touch around the rim are lethal and his outstanding court vision presents many great opportunities for his teammates. Playing a similar style as Nikola Jokic, his full arsenal is always on display. There are multiple contending teams that would love to get their hands on the former Gonzaga Bulldog.

Ironically enough, both Turner and Sabonis were drafted 11th overall and are currently just 25 years old. They still have a ton of potential, and the same can be said for LeVert. When healthy, the former Michigan product is an elite offensive threat. His numbers are way down this year but he has been in and out of the lineup all season.

The arrival of Duarte allows Indiana to move on from LeVert while also getting good value for him. He is under contract for $17.5 million this year and $18.8 million next season. He will not be just a rental for the acquiring team and still has a high ceiling. He is the most likely piece to be moved, and there are several good destinations where he could end up.

Contenders will definitely be interested in acquiring the talented guard. LeVert would be a great fit alongside Luka Doncic in Dallas. Denver could surely use him as they have dealt with a bunch of injuries this season. A place like Cleveland would provide an ideal situation for both he and the team to thrive together with Collin Sexton out for the season.

Much like last season, the Pacers have been battling injuries even before the first game tipped off. TJ Warren played just four games last season and won’t return to game action until 2022. The 28-year old will become a free agent at the end of the season. Justin Holiday remains out due to COVID-19 protocols and TJ McConnell could miss the rest of the season after undergoing wrist surgery last week.

There are a few other small pieces that Indiana could part with. Jeremy Lamb is on a $10.5 million expiring contract and Torrey Craig signed a two-year, $10 million contract this past summer that could easily be moved. They might not yield them much in return but even a small asset is worth considering.

In terms of what the Pacers look like going forward, there is a lot of overlap with their roster. Duarte makes LeVert expendable, and both Oshae Brissett and Isaiah Jackson appear to be solid forwards for the future. Goga Bitadze, a player that the organization seems to be fond of, has a similar offensive skillset to Turner.

No matter which direction the Pacers elect to go, the landscape for this team is going to be vastly different than in years past. Indiana has only missed the playoffs seven times since 1989. Herb Simon is the league’s longest-tenured owner and has always wanted to put the most competitive team possible on the floor. The 87-year old Simon has recently become amenable to the idea of a rebuild.

It is likely that Indiana parts with LeVert and one of their two big men. Depending on the return package, they could still remain competitive without doing a full-scale rebuild. Charlotte is one team to keep an eye on, as they desperately need a big man, and they have exactly what the Pacers need – a wing player. The Hornets have an abundance of forwards that they could send out, including a return home to Indiana for Gordon Hayward, a player they tried to acquire last offseason.

Things in Indy aren’t as bad as they might seem. The Pacers are 1-7 in games decided by three points or less, and 1-2 in overtime this season. Their crunchtime numbers are horrific, which is their biggest issue. They rank 9th in offense and 12th in defense and have a +2.0 net rating, which ranks top-ten in the league. The league’s two-minute report also stated that they were basically robbed at the end of two of their losses.

Basketball was born in Indiana. Their fans know a good team when they see it. This roster just has never been able to be healthy and full. Still, the ceiling for this group is not particularly high, and the only way for this team to get off of the treadmill of mediocrity is to break it apart and build it back up.

Chad is a Basketball Insiders contributor based in Indianapolis.

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