The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Indiana Pacers face conundrum with former All-Star Victor Oladipo

Indiana Pacers face conundrum with former All-Star Victor Oladipo

Indiana Pacers face complicated decisions about their future

During his first three seasons, Victor Oladipo quietly produced 1,000-point campaigns in Orlando. Since his short stint with the team that drafted him at second overall, Oladipo flunked out of Oklahoma City before rising to prominence in Indiana. However, Indiana could jettison the 28-year-old shooting guard before the former All-Star begins his contract’s final year.

In 2016, the Orlando Magic sent Oladipo and rookie Domantas Sabonis to Oklahoma City for Serge Ibaka. Oladipo signed a four-year, $85 million extension for the Thunder, but he didn’t click with Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma City went 47-35 in its first year without Kevin Durant, and Oladipo took a large chunk of the blame for not stepping up.

After the ill-fated season, OKC traded Oladipo and Sabonis, who averaged fewer than six points per game, to the Pacers for Paul George. Indiana won the trade, considering that neither George nor Westbrook even play for the Thunder anymore.

In his first season with the Pacers, Oladipo made the leap analysts predicted he would in OKC. The 25-year-old scored 1,735 points and led the NBA with 177 steals. He made the All-Star game, earned All-NBA 3rd Team and All-Defensive 1st Team honors, and won the Most Improved Player award. Indiana went 48-34 before losing to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

Sabonis quietly began improving as well. He finished fourth on the team with 861 points and led the Pacers with 572 rebounds. The 2017 season marked the beginning of Sabonis overtaking Myles Turner as Indiana’s most important big man.

Unfortunately for the Pacers and Oladipo, prosperity wouldn’t last. In 2019, the star guard suffered a ruptured right quad tendon against the Toronto Raptors. The injury occurred in January, meaning Oladipo missed the team’s final 35 games. He also missed 11 games earlier in the year.

After playing 36 games last season, Oladipo appeared in 19 regular season matchups and all four playoff games for the Pacers this year. He never looked right, setting career-lows in field goal percentage (39.4%), three-point percentage (31.7%), assists per game (2.9), and steals per game (0.9). Oladipo’s 14.5 points per game were his fewest since his rookie season.

During Oladipo’s extended absence, Sabonis became Indiana’s on-court leader. He scored over 1,000 points for the first time during the 2018 season and made the All-Star game this year. Sabonis made 54.0% of his shots while averaging 18.5 points, 5.0 assists, and 12.4 rebounds per game. He led Indiana to a 45-28 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

However, Sabonis missed Indiana’s eight games in the bubble and the team’s playoff run with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Last fall, Sabonis signed a four-year extension worth roughly $75 million that kicks in next season.

With their two stars injured and Nate McMillan no longer coaching the team, Indiana faces several vital decisions. Primarily, the team isn’t in a position to win a title anytime soon, and the Oladipo rehab process is becoming tiresome. The Pacers owe Oladipo $21 million next season, but Indiana could cut ties with the former star before then.

“I bet they trade him,” one former Eastern Conference executive told Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus. A Western Conference executive countered by saying, “I don’t think I would touch him. He doesn’t look healthy.”

Oladipo’s health could play a huge role in whether or not he gets dealt, but the Pacers need a decision on the 28-year-old’s future soon. According to Spotrac, Oladipo is the ninth-highest paid shooting guard in terms of annual salary. He probably wants a spot among the top-five, but Indiana might not view the injury-prone two-way star as a worthwhile investment.

The Pacers find themselves at a crossroads. While searching for a new coach, the organization must evaluate Oladipo’s current and future value. Even mostly without him, Indiana claimed the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. With Sabonis’ extension just beginning, the Pacers could flip Oladipo for healthier pieces as the team continues battling for leverage in the East.

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