The Indiana Pacers have a relatively young core and were just one win away from reaching the NBA Finals in June, but won’t simply rely on internal development to take the next step. The Pacers drafted Solomon Hill, re-signed David West and landed C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland via free agency. They are also expecting Danny Granger to be healthy in training camp.
Indiana’s most recent move might not have the impact of re-signing West or eventual extension for Paul George, but it certainly was the most creative. The Pacers have sent Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a future first round pick to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for veteran Luis Scola.
Scola adds interior depth to the bench, which was the team’s weak spot this past season. Frank Vogel can now feature a second unit that includes Lance Stephenson (or Granger), Ian Mahinmi, Watson, Copeland and Scola. That represents a huge upgrade over the bench that was enough for them to take the eventual champion Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
He may only be an average defender, but Scola’s offensive ability will be welcomed when West and Roy Hibbert are off the floor. Mahinmi has learned to protect the rim nicely in Vogel’s scheme, but features hands made of stone. The Pacers can play to their individual strengths when Scola and Mahinmi are playing alongside one another.
Scola might be considered by some as the replacement for Tyler Hansbrough, who was allowed to become an unrestricted free agent when his rights were renounced following the re-signing of West, but the 33-year-old is a substantial upgrade as the reserve power forward. Scola is better around the basket, has better hands and is a willing passer.
His presence will also open things up on the perimeter. Mahinmi doesn’t pose enough of an offensive threat to take attention away from the three-point line. Defenses will have to stay home on Scola, which means better looks for Watson, Copeland and Orlando Johnson.
Adding Scola to a team that expects to compete for an NBA title over the next few seasons is a nice move, but it becomes even better when you consider the price the Pacers paid for him.
Miles Plumlee might become a rotation player down the line, but the pick was puzzling last June given the perception that he's likely already reached his ceiling. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for the Pacers to roll the dice on a prospect with room to develop. He has an affordable contract with options and offers through 2017 and increased his NBA stock with a strong performance at the Orlando Summer League earlier this month.
If you have read anything I’ve written about the Pacers over the last year, you’ll know that I’m not the biggest fan of Gerald Green, the basketball player. He’s an engaging man, but was never a fit for the team. He still tantalizes people with his athleticism and leaping ability, but he’ll never be anything more than an average shooter and remains poor defensively.
Green was branded as a deep threat when he was signed to a three-year, $10.5 million contract last July, but shot just 31.4 percent from three and 36.6% overall last season. He averaged 14 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per 36 minutes in his only season with Indiana, projecting to take more than 14 shot attempts to get there.
His contract isn’t exorbitant, but the length was troublesome. There are just two years and $7 million left, but it’s still somewhat amazing that Larry Bird and Kevin Pritchard were able to trade it away. They had to include a lottery-protected first round pick in order to sweeten the deal but if the plan unfolds correctly, it will be very low anyway.
Grade for Pacers: A
As you might expect, the pick is the centerpiece of the deal for the Suns. I don’t believe Ryan McDonough is done tinkering, but even as the roster currently stands Plumlee can play a handful of minutes in the paint and Green can run up-and-down the court with Eric Bledsoe.
Phoenix is stockpiling first round picks to ease the rebuilding process and there is a chance they’ll have five such picks in the next few drafts. Including their own selections, which figure to be relatively high, the Suns now three incoming first rounders -- Minnesota Timberwolves (protected from 2014-16), Los Angeles Lakers (top protection from 2015-17) and this one.
Scola was an odd fit on Phoenix’s transitioning roster and will benefit significantly from the deal in terms of playoff contention and a shot at a championship. The salaries are fairly even for 2013-14, but if the Suns choose not to trigger Plumlee’s option for 2014-15 they’ll save a little over a million dollars. That’s of little significance at this point, but it’s one of the benefits nonetheless.
Grade for Suns: C+
It isn’t even August and the Pacers have re-signed West, added Watson and Copeland and traded for Scola while remaining close to $7 million below the tax threshold and keeping Granger’s expiring $14 million deal. Not a bad summer so far.