The Pacers are one of the NBA’s top feel-good stories this season.
After trading Paul George, they appeared heading toward 30-something wins and the resulting middling draft pick – unsatisfying on both counts. But Victor Oladipo has emerged into a legitimate star, and a supporting cast of solid players has emerged.
Indiana (33-25, fifth in the East) could have gone many directions before the trade deadline.
Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Al Jefferson and Lance Stephenson all have small or no salary guarantees for next season. Thaddeus Young and Cory Joseph hold player options that could create or inhibit flexibility. Youngsters Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and T.J. Leaf will probably provide more value in future season.
The Pacers looked like a potential destination for Kemba Walker. Or they could have used their partially guaranteed players in a trade for a bad contract, netting long-term assets in the process.
Instead, Indiana stood pat.
Pacers president Kevin Pritchard, via Clifton Brown of IndyStar:
“I had six players come up to me, and this has never happened to me as an executive, and say, ‘Keep this team together.’ That carried a lot of weight with me.”
Al Jefferson is a man of many words, always happy to talk at length about any subject. Yet when he saw Kevin Pritchard for the first time after the Pacers stood pat at the NBA trade deadline, he only needed two.
“Thank you,” Jefferson told the Pacers team president.
For Jefferson, two little words carried a whole lot of meaning.
Thank you for keeping me in this locker room I love.
Thank you for not dealing away any of my friends.
Thank you for believing this team can continue to defy expectations.
As has become custom for this locker room leader, Jefferson was speaking on behalf of the whole team when expressing his gratitude.
It’s telling that first-year Pacers Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic were among the six who approached Pritchard. To feel that attached to teammates after spending less than a year together is rare.
It’s also telling that Jefferson was not one of the six players who approached Pritchard.
I like how the Pacers handled the trade deadline. They’re achieving meaningful success right now.
They’ll probably make the playoffs. They’ll probably lose in the first round. For many teams, that’d be underwhelming.
But for the Pacers, after how George spurned them and how much criticism they took for their return in trading him (including by me), this must be so satisfying. Apparently, the locker-room chemistry only matches the wider mood.
By not trading, Indiana missed an opportunity to upgrade this season at the expense of future seasons or downgrade this season to the benefit of future. That’s more than fine.