The Pacers are likely to end up with the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference, but the team has undergone an incredible amount of turmoil since the trade deadline, and its contender status has been shaken to the core.
Indiana traded Danny Granger in exchange for Evan Turner, in a move that was supposed to add talent and shore up the bench for the second half of the season and on into the playoffs.
But it messed with the locker room chemistry much more than it provided on-court dividends, and the team lost a leader who it’s now apparent was extremely important to the unit’s cohesiveness.
The Heat, too, were offered Turner before the trade deadline, and all it would have cost them was Udonis Haslem. On paper, at the time, it may have been hard to believe Miami wasn’t interested, considering that Haslem had been relegated to end-of-the-bench status for much of the regular season.
But looking back, we know now that Miami made the right choice.
The Heat was offered Evan Turner before Indiana. All they had to give up was Haslem, who wasn’t even playing. Haslem, like Danny Granger, has spent his basketball life with only one team, and he talks a lot about the Heat way and family. The Heat didn’t make the trade at least in part because it didn’t like how the message contradicted what it was selling James when it met him, or what it might do to the locker room.
And Haslem, the old pro who has twice given up in excess of $10 million to stay in Miami, never once said a negative syllable from the bench, telling anyone who would listen that a time would come when he would be needed. And, as the Pacers continue an uncommon short-circuiting since the Granger-for-Turner trade, that was the undersized Haslem pushing around Roy Hibbert, the giant who called his teammates selfish, in the most recent game to help decide the Eastern Conference’s best team.
An anonymous Heat official, you may recall, pointed all of this out recently.
The entire piece is worth reading, and details Riley’s approach that extends beyond the court and into his players’ personal lives. The bond is formed off the court, and helps solidify the way the team plays on it.
It’s an easy philosophy to have when you’re winning championships, of course, but the Pacers proved to be a formidable foe in last year’s playoffs, and were on track to run away with the conference this season. Miami could have traded its longest-tenured veteran who wasn’t contributing at the time, but Riley was all too aware of the potential for negative consequences.