Through the draft and the first 10 days of the new NBA calendar year, the Pacers had seemed to have put together a nice little offseason.
Their first-round draft picks filled their needs with No. 8 pick Jarace Walker giving them versatility on both ends at the power forward spot and No. 26 pick Ben Sheppard providing shooting and defense on the wing. In Bruce Brown, they brought in a utilityman coming off an NBA title with the Nuggets — one of the biggest free agent additions of any team in a year when most of the big contracts went to players who signed new deals to stay where they were. They also added more to the power forward spot by getting Obi Toppin from the Knicks at a cheap price, giving up two second-round picks in the distant future for the No. 8 overall pick in the 2020 draft and former consensus national player of the year. Speaking in Las Vegas after the Toppin trade became official, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle seemed thrilled with the roster as constructed.
“Our roster has gotten a lot more competitive in the last few weeks,” Carisle said. “Competition brings out the best in everybody.”
But if the trade talk that has hit the NBA media in recent days is to be believed, the Pacers haven’t yet given up trying to add to this year’s roster. Several NBA reporters including Marc Stein — formerly of ESPN and the New York Times, now running his own Substack called The Stein Line — have reported that the Pacers are a “legitimate contender” to trade with Toronto for two-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA pick Pascal Siakam. After losing guard Fred VanVleet to the Houston Rockets in free agency, the Raptors seem interested in blowing up their roster and rebuilding, and they could get a kickstart in that direction if they could get a big return for Siakam, whose four-year, $137 million deal ends after this season.
Adding Siakam this season would give All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton an established runningmate at his caliber and would instantly give the Pacers a chance to not only make the Eastern Conference playoffs, but actually make a run there. On the flip side, there are potential drawbacks to be considered in the longterm.
Here are a list of potential pros and cons to any deal that might bring Siakam to the Pacers.
Siakam is one of the best all-around offensive players in the East
NBA teams can be reasonably successful with an ensemble cast, but winning championships requires elite talent. Since 1990, just two teams — the 2004 Detroit Pistons and the 2019 Toronto Raptors — have won an NBA title without a player who at some point in his career won an NBA MVP. That Raptors squad did include Kawhi Leonard, a two-time Finals MVP, five-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA pick. And, of course, it had Siakam.
Siakam is an elite talent, and combined with Haliburton, he can instantly make the Pacers a much more difficult team to guard. At some point, if the Pacers want to be a contender to not just reach the playoffs but contend for an Eastern Conference title, they’ll need to add a player of Siakam’s caliber. If they start reaching the playoffs this season, it will become harder to do that through the draft.
Siakam is 6-9, 230 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan and that size alone made him a problem for Raptors’ opponents inside when he was playing power forward next to Serge Ibaka on that title winning Raptors team. He finished second to Leonard on that team with 16.9 points to go with 6.9 rebounds.
But since Leonard moved on and signed with the Clippers that offseason, Siakam has been the Raptors’ leading scorer each of the past four seasons, averaging 21.0 points per game or more in each of them including a career-high 24.2 per game this past season. He hasn’t been the Raptors’ point guard — that was VanVleet’s job and Kyle Lowry‘s before him — but he has no problem bringing the ball up the floor, initiating offense, creating his own shot or creating for others. He has legitimate shooting range, having hit at least 70 3s in each of the past five seasons, including 131 on that 2018-19 championship squad. He can finish at the rim and make shots in the mid-range, and he also averaged a career-high 5.8 assists per game last season.
He’s also still productive on defense and on the glass, averaging better than 7.0 rebounds in each of the past four seasons and 0.9 steals per game for his career. If the Pacers would add him, he would instantly become the most devastating weapon Haliburton has to work with.
Positionally, the Pacers could use Siakam in either forward spot and make it work. He’s a power forward by trade, but he could easily function at the 3 or even the 2 on offense and he can defend bigger small forwards just as well as he can defend power forwards. He can play in bigger lineups at the 4 or smaller lineups at the 3 and shouldn’t have a problem co-existing with the likes of Toppin and Walker or with wings such as Bennedict Mathurin or Brown.
The Pacers could make him fit salary wise
Siakam is owed $37.9 million this season, but the Pacers shouldn’t have a problem taking that on. After signing Brown, adding Toppin and trading away Chris Duarte for draft picks, they still have about $7.5 million left under the salary cap and after that another $26 million before they hit the first luxury tax apron. On top of that, they would obviously be sending players to the Raptors who would clear out further cap space.
Presumably, any deal the teams would make would send away guard Buddy Hield and his expiring contract, which has about $19.3 million left on it this season. Moving Hield alone would put the Pacers at $26.8 million under the cap. They’d need to find just $11.1 million more to stay at the cap number and they could easily find a few players still on their rookie deals to send Toronto’s way to make that work.
Obviously, the Pacers would have to become immediately concerned about keeping Siakam beyond the 2023-24 season, but from a purely cap space perspective, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem either if they really want to make it happen. Haliburton’s max contract extension kicks in next season and he’ll be due about $35.5 million. Center Myles Turner will still be owed about $20 million. Re-signing Siakam at close to the same figure he was making would obviously take up about $100 million in cap space with the cap figure projected to be about $142 million next season according to Spotrac.com.
The Pacers could keep the rest of the roster under $42 million, however, if they allow a few other players to move on. Bruce Brown’s contract has a team option for the second year, so they could decline that and allow him to become a free agent. Forwards Obi Toppin, Aaron Nesmith and Jordan Nwora all have contracts that expire after the 2023-24 season as well. Again, Hield would probably have to be included in a trade, but even if he somehow wasn’t, his money comes off the books after 2023-24 as well. Centers Daniel Theis and Isaiah Jackson both have club options for that season. Letting Theis go — or finding a way to trade him sometime between now and then — would clear out another $9.5 million.
Banking on Siakam re-signing is risky
Though they will have the cap room to make an offer to Siakam to keep him beyond this season, they are still only guaranteed one year with him. So if they trade valuable pieces — particularly young ones — to get him, they could find themselves with just one season to make the most out of him.
Chris Haynes of TNT reported last month that Siakam has expressed reluctance to sign a contract extension with any team that trades for him, and has said he hopes to remain with the Raptors. Obviously, Siakam could arrive in Indianapolis, spend a year getting the ball fed to him by Haliburton and decide Indiana is where he wants to spend the rest of his career, but there’s no way of knowing that before making the trade.
At 29, Siakam doesn’t exactly fit the Pacers’ timeline
After a 10-win improvement from 2021-22 to 2022-23 from 25-57 to 35-47, the Pacers have legitimate reason to believe they can make a leap to 40 or more wins and a postseason spot in 2023-24 with the roster they already have. There’s potentially more downside than upside in trying to hold a young, talented, hungry team such as this back from the postseason in hope of adding another lottery pick to the mix.
However, adding Siakam might be taking a win-now approach a little too far. He’s 29 years old and will turn 30 in April before the end of next season. That means he has several prime years left, but most of the players he’ll be surrounded by still have a long way to go to reach that age. Haliburton, even with a max contract that could pay him $260 million over five years in tow, is still just 23. First team All-Rookie guard Bennedict Mathurin just turned 21 in June. The Pacers are hopeful Jarace Walker becomes a franchise pillar, and he won’t turn 20 until September. It’s possible the Pacers will have to trade some other younger pieces — such as Andrew Nembhard, Aaron Nesmith, Jalen Smith and Isaiah Jackson — to Toronto to acquire Siakam, but they’re each 23 or younger. Toppin is 25, Brown 26 and Turner 27 and they’re considered old guys on the roster.
So adding a player such as Siakam could make for an awkward dynamic where the players around him aren’t mature enough for a title run yet. He could either walk next season to try find a team that’s more ready for such a run or he could stick around and he could be less effective by the time they are. Either way, the age fit is not exactly for such a young roster.
The Pacers might have to trade young pieces they like
Based on early reporting about negotiations, the Raptors seem more interested in acquiring young players who could hang around long enough to be part of a rebuild rather than top-line talent that could immediately replace Siakam.
They aren’t in need of a center after re-signing Jakob Poetl for $80 million over four years, so the Pacers wouldn’t have to be worried about putting Myles Turner in a deal. If Haliburton and Mathurin are off the table, as seems to be the case, then Hield would be the most established player the Raptors would likely be interested in.
Hield is one of the best shooters in the game, but as a complete player he’s not on Siakam’s level, so the Raptors are likely to want young talent in return. There have been reports that the Pacers have discussed Nembhard, Nesmith, Jalen Smith and a future first-round pick as part of a deal. According to Evan Massey of Hoops Analysis Network, the Pacers have been unwilling to move Nembhard.
On some level, it seems absurd to imagine any of those players would be a sticking point for the Pacers in a deal to get Siakam. None of them averaged more than 10.1 points per game last season. However, Carlisle in particular is a huge fan of Nembhard and his ability to both run the offense and defend and believes he should have been a lottery pick. Nembhard and Nesmith took on the top perimeter players of the Pacers’ opponents all season. Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard spoke of both of them as pillars of the Pacers’ rebuild toward playoff contention.
At the moment, Siakam is a far better player than anyone the Pacers could possibly trade for him. However, the Pacers have to weigh whether it’s worth giving up valuable young pieces who can make a difference for years to come if they can only be assured of one year of Siakam.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Why the Pacers should — and should not — trade for Pascal Siakam.
Source: Yahoo Sports