Pacers swing trade to acquire Suns' Luis Scola in mutually beneficial move
Indiana entered the offseason with two imperatives: to re-sign David West to a reasonable deal, and to shore up the bench through whatever means possible. The former was accomplished in short order -- West agreed to terms on a three-year contract just one day into the July moratorium -- but the latter is an ongoing enterprise. The point guard rotation was solidified with both the exodus of D.J. Augustin and the additions of C.J. Watson and Donald Sloan. Tyler Hansbrough's qualifying offer was rescinded once the wheels were in motion for the Pacers to sign the sweet-shooting Chris Copeland, who should help out with his knack for extemporaneous offense. Danny Granger's recovery from injury, too, has him on-pace to return, and further alleviate the Pacers' need for supplementary scoring.
One more -- and perhaps final -- addition to those reserve ranks came on Saturday, as Indiana reportedly agreed to trade Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, and a lottery-protected 2014 first round pick to Phoenix in exchange for Luis Scola*, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. Scola's game has taken a dip since his prime years in Houston, but he's still in a position to fit brilliantly within the Pacers' power-posting offense and work over second-unit post defenders. That he'll play a slighter role against lesser competition is quite pertinent for an aging scorer like Scola, as the impact of his decline can be mitigated by competing against less dynamic and physically imposing bench bigs on a regular basis.
At the very least, Scola is a more practical version of the outbound Hansbrough, and capable of playing a more direct role in Indiana's offense. Hansbrough was party to the Pacers' clear lack of reserve shot creation last season, if only because his offensive game isn't readily accessible. He averaged 15.0 points per 36 minutes on haphazard drives, put-backs, and broken plays, but none of those means of scoring could be called on command. Scola, in contrast, can still be a go-to source of low-block offense when needed. He's a better scorer in both volume and efficiency than Hansbrough, actually passes the ball (and does so well), and is a comparable rebounder.
The two do, however, share in their defensive ineptitude. The Pacers were able to survive Hansbrough's frantic over-rotation last season due to their stout team defense, and should be able to do the same with Scola's plodding work on that end of the floor. It won't always be easy, but Scola is a good enough defensive rebounder to at least help complete defensive stands, and could prove tolerable in coverage when paired with bigs like Roy Hibbert or Ian Mahinmi. Of course, doing so would also create a bit of a playing time crunch between Scola and the recently acquired Copeland, but these are the kinds of problems that Pacers coach Frank Vogel has been desperately waiting to have. Gone are the days of extracting every possible minute from the starters in order to tide over the hapless reserves; now its just a matter of which solid bench option plays when, where, and how much. It should be interesting to see how Vogel crafts a rotation from his best top-to-bottom roster yet, as he faces an interesting challenge in making all the pieces fit just so.
Of course, Indiana paid a price** to acquire a useful rotation big, albeit a tolerable one considering the Pacers' position. Plumlee was buried deep beneath an already-horrid bench last season, and wasn't likely to be unearthed anytime soon. That first-rounder -- while likely to be redeemed in one of the deepest drafts in years -- makes for an acceptable loss, provided that Scola can hold form and avoid becoming a millstone for the top defensive team in the league. Both are assets that Indiana could have retained, but come as a reasonable cost for a contender still looking to narrow Miami's lead whenever and however it can.
That still leaves ample room for the Suns to benefit from this transaction as well, as franchises in such different positions are in need of very different kinds of assets. To Phoenix, that first-rounder is a valuable piece of currency, through which a young player can be acquired or a trade consummated. Plumlee, too, now becomes more prospect than practice fodder, as the Suns have the luxury of field testing his play if they're so inclined. Scola benefits in playing for a contender, Green in likely stumbling into more playing time, and the Suns in clearing out minutes for a developing player. This deal checks out for all parties involved, as Indiana and Phoenix swap resources to make progress in their particular endeavors.
*There's a great deal of confusion over whether the second and last season of Scola's deal is fully guaranteed or not, as his status as a former amnesty waiver claim seems to have muddled matters a great deal. More coming on the subject as Scola's contract is clarified.**Green, whom the Pacers have been trying to jettison for some time, hardly counts.