The Indiana Pacers have so many trade and free agency rumors swirling around who is going to start at point guard when the 2019-20 season tips off that you could plug any name from the entire NBA into a Mad Libs and send it off for editing and readers would tweet it far and wide with no regard for its credibility.
Part of this is because every offseason for every team at every position of need is like this and part of it is the simple fact that the Pacers, by virtue of Darren Collison being about to turn 32 over the summer and starting the decline endemic to over-30 point guards, are blatantly obvious buyers in this market.
The problem is that every option the Pacers have, to be blunt, sucks.
Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies is from Indianapolis, but he’s also 32 in October, hasn’t been able to stay healthy for an entire season since 2013, can’t guard anyone anymore, saw his true shooting and eFG% drop off a cliff after his last full mostly-healthy season in 2017, and can’t finish at the rim anymore (55.4 percent from 3 feet and in according to Basketball Reference.)
Conley has two years left on his contract at $32.5 million in 2020 and a now-fully-guaranteed $34.5 million for 2021. The Pacers have a short window before their salary cap explodes. And Conley looks less like a win-now move and more like a massive albatross that will keep Indiana from having the flexibility to sign the Bojan Bogdanovic/Thaddeus Young type of player who has over the past few seasons been the engine of a team that has overachieved and survived injury to be a perpetual playoff team in the making.
Kemba Walker is the other guy Indiana is connected to in most rumors, but we’ve talked about Walker before, specifically how he is the worst clutch shooter in the league and a guy who just plain has a losing mentality.
And yeah, I know, this is a stats-forward kind of forum, but there are some things that come down to intangibles even in an analytic world and Kemba Walker thinking he’s a hero and taking shots away from a back-from-injury Victor Oladipo in the clutch sounds to me like the difference between a Pacers team with a freaky ability to win close games more than their overall record says they should and a Pacers team that loses those games.
Considering what cardiac kids the Pacers are—it’s how Oladipo made two All-Star appearances, after all—that’s not a small difference. That’s a difference between the 48-34 this team’s good for now and the 36-46 that Walker’s Hornets put up in 2017 and 2018 despite outscoring their opponents over 82 games in both of those 10-games-under-.500 seasons.
What’s Nate McMillan supposed to do, bench Walker or tell him not to shoot with the game on the line? If he does that, Walker will have a meltdown, and that’s not something that Walker, who’s going to want a lot more than the $12 million he made in 2019 when he hits free agency, is worth paying All-Star money for.
So Conley’s out. Walker’s a disaster waiting to happen. What about D’Angelo Russell, who’s said to be on the outs in Brooklyn and who can be snapped up as a restricted free agent who the Nets aren’t likely to match if the money’s good enough?
Well, for one thing, Russell is one of the most savagely inefficient shooters in all of basketball, a guy who finished second behind only Russell Westbrook for “bad games”, defined in this space as any game where a player takes at least 20 shots and ends up with more field goal attempts than points.
Teams that have a player who does that are expected to go 26-56 per 82 games in which it happens. And you don’t want a me-first gunner of a point guard when you have Oladipo. If you really want to throw $20 million at a secondary scorer, just back the dump truck up to Bojan Bogdanovic to keep him from walking.
I like Russell more than most, but he will Russell Westbrook you out of a dozen games without providing Westbrook’s penchant for triple-doubles, and that’s too much of a liability to give a sizeable contract to.
You could offer him a reasonable contract, but if you do that, you’re either getting outbid or Brooklyn is matching the deal on grounds that a team-friendly contract to a restricted free agent who at his best is a borderline All-Star is worth keeping him in their plans.
I’ve heard rumors about Chris Paul. I will not dignify them with a reply, only acknowledge that I’ve heard that wild BS too and whoever cooked up that rumor should stop smoking crack.
Of course, there is one other option, but it’s one that requires a bit of outside-the-box thinking that Kevin Pritchard has historically not shown the level of creativity or decisiveness necessary to pull off.
There will be guys on the NBA coaching carousel who have a strong ability to develop young talent, either because they’re getting hired away from college or the G-League or because they’ve done it at the NBA level.
If the Pacers want to look long-term and consider the youth of their roster while maybe punting a season or two of win-now ball that is usually their hallmark, you fire Nate McMillan (you should do this anyway) and give big minutes to Aaron Holiday to try to make an NBA-caliber point guard out of him.
Upside, you have a guy on a late-first-round 2018 rookie scale contract under team control, which means cap space to retain Bogdanovic or Young.
Downside, Holiday was as green as Wiz Khalifa’s favorite form of recreation and induced as much stoner logic from Pacers media during his rookie year as Khalifa smoking that green.
If you take a chance on letting Holiday have his growing pains, you accept the downside risk of fans who think highly of the team’s 2019-20 chances and wouldn’t take kindly to punting a year of the window if it doesn’t work out.
You can’t just keep Collison or Cory Joseph. Getting a marquee guy means getting a guy who, no matter who he is, has huge downside risk. And there just aren’t a lot of good intermediate options like a younger version of Collison who, it should be remembered, led the league in 3-point percentage in 2018.
The Pacers have plenty of options at point guard. The only problem is that all of them are bad.