Sitting at a disappointing 10–16 entering Wednesday, the Pacers may be headed for a significant rebuild. The Athletic reports Indiana is considering putting Caris LeVert and one of Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis on the trade block, as the team has yet to find much success during Rick Carlisle’s first year with this group. It’s an unfortunate situation for the Pacers, who’ve dealt with a rash of injuries this season. Bubble hero T.J. Warren hasn’t played since last December, and the four-man group of Turner, Sabonis, LeVert and Malcolm Brogdon has appeared together in only 13 of the team’s first 26 games—with an impressive 14.9 net rating when they do share the floor.
Still, the Pacers have struggled immensely in close games. And Sabonis, a former All-Star, has been oddly marginalized by Carlisle’s scheme so far, averaging his fewest points per night since 2019. (LeVert has also not been the same player he was in Brooklyn, averaging his fewest points since ’19 as well in addition to the worst shooting percentages of his career.) Of course, with the subpar performances and middling record, all roads lead to fake trades. Are there any out there that make sense for the Pacers? Let’s ponder the trade machine orb for a minute …
The popular one
Warriors receive: Domantas Sabonis
Pacers receive: James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, maybe a future first
Some version of this Indiana fake trade gets thrown around quite often on podcasts and NBA Twitter, and it’s probably the one that makes the most sense for both sides if the Pacers feel really compelled to part ways with Sabonis. I’m actually mildly less bullish on the Domantas fit in Golden State than most. I think the Warriors would still be great, but I’m not sure it would necessarily maximize everyone’s talents. Sabonis is an elite screen setter when given the opportunity, and he would be devastating setting picks for Steph Curry. He’s also a bruiser in the post. But what’s Draymond Green doing in those situations? What about when Draymond has the ball at the top of the key? Again, there’s more than enough talent that the Warriors would figure it out, but it doesn’t scream seamless fit to me.
For the Pacers, Wiseman and Kuminga are both solid prospects. I think Wiseman could thrive in a less high-pressure environment with more room to grow, though Myles Turner would probably have to be moved at some point as well. Kuminga has great size on the perimeter and should become a really valuable defender one day. But here’s where every Sabonis trade falls apart for me: Why trade a proven All-Star who is only 25 years old when he can thrive in the right system? If Indy was merely average in clutch time, the conversation around the team could be a lot different, let alone if Warren was healthy. And that’s all without Carlisle really letting Sabonis cook. So when I see this trade, I wonder why the Pacers aren’t trying to make it work with their best player first, unless they’re really serious about playing the lottery.
The less popular one
Warriors receive: Myles Turner
Pacers receive: James Wiseman, Moses Moody, Damion Lee
You could make an argument Turner is the more valuable big than Sabonis (an argument Pacers fans and interlopers have had for a while), and he could serve a more specific purpose for the Warriors. Turner is more ready than Wiseman or Kevon Looney right now to contribute on both ends of the floor in a playoff series, and that’s really the only reason for Golden State to make this admittedly shaky trade. Turner would be an $18 million luxury for a team that would likely put him on the bench in crunch time, though he’s a more well-rounded player than Looney to use in matchups against teams like the Nuggets or Suns.
This is maybe the best trade the Pacers could make. They could keep their All-Star and see if he finds more success around Wiseman. Or they can build around Wiseman and future draft picks if they decide to eventually move Sabonis as well. But asking for a former No. 2 pick in exchange for Turner feels bold, even if the center is more talented than his role in Indy has likely allowed.
The long shot
Sixers receive: CJ McCollum, Portland future first
Blazers receive: Ben Simmons, Myles Turner
Pacers receive: Jusuf Nurkić, Nassir Little, a different Portland future first
O.K., I don’t see this trade happening because Philly probably wants more for Ben Simmons, but this one is intriguing to me because while Sabonis’s name gets thrown into Blazers rumors, I think Turner makes so much more sense for them. He and Simmons would transform Portland’s defense overnight, and while Chauncey Billups would have to mold his coverages around Turner, he gets an elite rim protector and one of the best perimeter defenders in the game. On offense, Damian Lillard can run pick-and-rolls with Simmons, who now plays power forward, while Turner camps out in the corner.
Meanwhile the Sixers essentially make the oft-discussed McCollum-for-Simmons swap, put a knockdown shooter in the starting lineup with Embiid, and it’s an instant upgrade considering Simmons doesn’t even currently play.
But would the Pacers do this? Indy hasn’t exactly helped Turner’s trade value by shopping him around the last few seasons, with seemingly no takers. It doesn’t make much sense to me why Turner isn’t more coveted around the league. He defends the rim well and can make enough threes to stay out of the way on offense. Little has some promise, but playing for a developing team is a lot different than playing off stars. I just don’t know what’s out there for Turner if so many teams have already passed on him.
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And this is really the problem with constructing any fake Pacers trades. Do Carlisle and the front office really have the stomach to head deep into the lottery? Because the team is going to take a hit the moment Sabonis or anyone else is moved off the roster. Even though the record is not good right now, there have at least been flashes of very good basketball and strategic tweaks that can be made (put Sabonis in the post!) to get even more out of the current roster. I don’t expect a report like the one about Indy to come out without some serious changes coming soon. But giving up on the talent on the current roster is a gamble the Pacers could very easily come to regret.
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