By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics, along with the rest of the NBA, are still perplexed after the Indiana Pacers surprised the basketball world by dealing All-Star forward Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night for Victor Oladipo and Domanatas Sabonis. Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was undoubtedly dealt a tough hand last month when George indicated he would not be re-signing with the Pacers next offseason.
George announced he had his sights set on heading to Los Angeles as well, which likely diminished the number of suitors chasing the forward. Still, George is a top-20 NBA player and a number of potential contenders (Celtics, Cavaliers, Rockets) undoubtedly had their sights set on acquiring the 6-foot-9 forward.
After taking a few days to digest the deal, I took a closer look at the particulars of the trade to try to piece together why the Pacers pulled the trigger on it. Instead, all I came up with was three reasons why it still makes no sense for Indiana:
1. The return was underwhelming
Victor Oladipo formerly starred for the University of Indiana five years ago. Having him return home to basketball-rabid Indiana is a nice story and could help the Pacers sell some tickets. However, it’s hard to find other elements of Oladipo’s game that are majorly appealing.
He’s already 25 years old and overpaid at $21 million per year for a 16 point per game player. He won’t be a flight risk like George since he’s under contract for the next four seasons but that’s a lot of cash to tie up for a guy who has never shot over 44 percent from the field during a season. Point guard is a deep position in the NBA and Oladipo is an expensive piece of that crop.
The five-year veteran could have some untapped potential left, but I don’t think that’s a contract most teams around the league would want their books taking up over 20 percent of the salary cap. Barring a major step forward in the next couple years, this could end up being a bad contract for Indy over the long haul.
Sabonis is an intriguing prospect as the other half of the deal, but he tailed off in a big way during his rookie season to finish as a 6-foot-10 40 percent shooter. He shot below average from 3-point range (32 percent), barely got to the free throw line (0.8 free throw attempts per game) and was a net negative on the defensive end.
Compared to what the Celtics and other teams around the league were reportedly offering, the Oklahoma City deal was the lesser package. Yet, the Pacers took it, nearly out of the blue.
2. The Pacers didn’t get rid of any of their bad deals
With George gone, the Pacers are clearly in rebuilding mode now. However, they’ve still got a roster stacked with veteran overpaid players. Al Jefferson is over the hill and is making $20 million for the next two seasons. Monta Ellis is due $22 million for the next two years as well.
Moving George in a trade is the perfect excuse to pawn those bad deals onto another team and clear out some salary cap space for the future. Pritchard didn’t just miss out on that opportunity, he actually added to his payroll (Oladipo makes more than George) for the 2017-18 season.
Seeing that Oladipo isn’t an asset that will be easy to move anytime soon, the logic fails again here for the Pacers.
3. Why not wait for free agency to shake out to try to find better offers?
Let’s be real here. That offer from the Thunder for George was probably going to be there all summer long. That’s a deal and risk Thunder GM Sam Presti is happy to take 9 times out of 10. Meanwhile, the Celtics and other teams around the league were primed to playing the waiting game with George through the first few days of free agency.
Some of those teams would probably have dropped out of the running after they got the players they want. Others would have missed out and could have come calling with better offers. Either way, the odds were in favor of some team making a significant run at George once the big names picked new homes in free agency.
The Celtics have more future assets than nearly any other team in the league and they’ll have to use some of them, sooner rather than later. Some franchise was going to emerge from the pack with a better offer than Oladipo and Sabonis. Yet, the Pacers were set against waiting for it.
Now, a painful rebuild begins from a tougher position.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.