Pacers select UCLA's TJ Leaf with 18th overall pick in draft
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Paul George's notice that he intends to leave caught the Indiana Pacers front office by surprise.
''It was a gut punch,'' said Kevin Pritchard, who took over for Larry Bird as president of basketball operations in May and was notified last week by George's agent, Aaron Mintz, of the four-time All-Star's plan to play elsewhere following the 2017-18 season.
''It was a total gut punch because we've had conversations this summer about players we'd like to add, a little bit of the style that we'd like to play,'' Pritchard said. ''The message over the summer up until this weekend was, `Let's build a winning team.'''
Pritchard plans to keep building with or without the 27-year-old George as the Pacers head into an offseason of uncertainty.
It started with Indiana selecting forward TJ Leaf with the 18th overall pick in the NBA draft Thursday night and grabbing his teammate at UCLA, center Ike Anigbogu, at No. 47. The Pacers also picked up the rights to Edmond Summer in a trade with New Orleans for cash after the Pelicans selected the Xavier guard 52nd overall.
All three join a team in complete transformation mode.
Leaf, a 6-foot-10 Israeli-American who moved at a young age to California where he's lived most of his life, shot 61.7 percent from the field this season for the Bruins, and averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
''He adds versatility to our roster,'' coach Nate McMillan said. ''I really love his spirit. He's a very positive kid, a very confident kid, believes in team basketball, believes in playing the game the right way.''
Anigbogu, who also grew up in California, averaged 4.7 points and 4.0 rebounds last season. As a junior at Xavier this season, Summer scored 15.0 points a game and averaged 5.0 assists and 1.3 steals.
Pritchard is spending his first offseason running the show trying to piece together a team that can deliver Indiana its first NBA title. But his approach changed drastically after learning of George's intentions, which preferably is to land with the Los Angeles Lakers, Pritchard said.
''It couldn't have come at a worse time for me,'' Pritchard said. ''But I have to get past mad because we will make good decisions around here if we look at everything.''
Trade rumors involving the Pacers have nearly been nonstop and on draft night the offers were ''coming at us fast,'' Pritchard said. He said the Pacers decided to hold off dealing George for the time being - but could pull the trigger on a move at any moment.
Now, instead of finding the right pieces to surround George with - and possibly provide him with the incentives to remain in Indiana - Pritchard is in search of a combination of players who will give the Pacers a new look.
Indiana hasn't made a serious playoff run since making back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference finals in 2013 and 2014. The Pacers have struggled to consistently be competitive for the past three seasons, missing the playoffs in 2015 and losing in the first round the last two years.
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