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Could the Indiana Pacers Be A D’Angelo Russell Trade Partner?

The Pacers are a bit of a wild card this summer

Indiana Pacers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The 2021-22 season was a massive success for the Timberwolves in pretty much every department. Head coach Chris Finch proved to be a smart tactician who has earned the respect of the locker room as well as the front office. Their star center, Karl-Anthony Towns, got back on his feet, and put together an All-NBA level season. Anthony Edwards showed that he’s more than just a fun player, he’s a damn good one who figures to enter the All-NBA discussion relatively soon too, and several other young players like Jarred Vanderbilt and Jaden McDaniels also took the next step in their developments.

With that success comes increased expectations. Hell, by the middle of the first round, the expectation for this 7-seed had shifted to winning the series, despite that basically never happening throughout NBA history. Everyone has been dying for a taste of success, and now that we’ve gotten a taste of it, everyone from the players to the fanbase (I re-watched the Play-In again yesterday) to ownership will want more of it.

The Wolves can safely assume that internal growth is coming from the likes of Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels, but betting only on internal growth is a fool’s errand. It’s cliche, but growth isn’t linear, and it’s impossible to guess at just how good those guys will be next season. In a Western Conference landscape that, at the moment, looks more treacherous in 2022-23 than it was this past year, Sachin Gupta and the Wolves will need to re-shuffle the deck a bit in order to upgrade the roster.

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The big ticket item in trade talks for the Wolves will be D’Angelo Russell. While trading D’Lo right now is not my preferred outcome given what I expect the return to be, it’s going to be a topic of discussion all offseason. This prompted me to think of who a realistic trade partner could be, and I landed on the Indiana Pacers as a possible destination.

The case for a trade with Indiana

Whether it’s with the Wolves or some other team, one would expect the Pacers to be active in the trade market this offseason, period. They have a pretty odd structure to their team at the moment, with several good-ish players all making significant money, albeit none above Malcolm Brogdon’s $22.6 million for 2022-23.

While Tyrese Haliburton is a good young player, he feels unlikely to turn into the Superstar a team generally needs to really vault themselves into making a serious playoff run. The Pacers are sort of at a crossroads, because players such as Haliburton, Brogdon, and Myles Turner are good enough under most circumstances to keep you out of the sweepstakes for the first overall pick, but are not good enough to make you more than a Play-In level team.

In the past, Indiana has been notoriously averse to rebuilding, but the trade of Domantas Sabonis for Haliburton suggested they might be willing to embrace playing for the future even if Hali is already very good. Regardless, the Pacers might be interested in a trade for Russell if they’re interested in playing for the future, given they’d probably get a pick to take on the last year of his deal. As a rebuilding team, they’d be wise to have their eyes set on the superstar level talent at the top of the 2023 NBA Draft.

Anyways, the Pacers make for a desirable trade partner for the Wolves mainly because of Myles Turner, and to a lesser extent Malcolm Brogdon.

In theory, trading for Malcolm Brogdon could be a good idea. He’s a talented basketball player, and his salary isn’t outlandish for a player with his skill-set. The problem is entirely with his availability. Brogdon played 75 games as a rookie, but in the five season since then has only topped 56 games once, bottoming out at 36 games this past season. He is just always hurt, unfortunately. Maybe that’s really all you could get in return for D’Lo and a 1st, but that is simply not worth it to me.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Now, to Turner.

The idea of Myles Turner next to KAT has been popular around the Wolves fanbase and media-sphere for a while now, and it’s not incredibly hard to see why. There are simply not many guys his size who can shoot the three AND protect the rim as well as Turner. He’s like the younger, more nimble version of current Brook Lopez.

If the Wolves trade for Turner, it will be for his rim protection prowess. He’d enable the team to play drop coverage more effectively, and would completely change the way their guards and wings can play on the perimeter. You think this team is aggressive going for steals now? I’d love to see how active the likes of Ant, Jaden, and Vando could be on the perimeter knowing they have Turner waiting behind them to clean up any mess. He’s led the NBA in blocks two of the past four seasons, and his 2.8bpg would have led the league by a mile this season had he played enough games to qualify. He’s a special rim protector.

Since I can already here someone complaining about the mention of drop coverage, I would like to remind everyone that the Wolves routinely talked about feeling tired towards the end of the season. Playing at the level of every ball screen and flying around behind it is exhausting. Having an elite rim protector to eat some possessions up in drop throughout the year would be a nice change from having to wear the team down throughout the year.

That’s the case for Turner. He’s an elite rim protector who doesn’t sabotage your spacing offensively.

The case against trading for Myles Turner

With all of that said, there is a reason Turner is even potentially available. He’s often gotten the “stretch big” tag, but there really isn’t a whole lot of “stretch” to Turner’s game. He’s a career 34.9% three-point shooter, but has been below that number each of the past three years once he upped his volume. Even with that slight uptick in volume, he still only fires roughly four 3PA per game. He can make a three, I guess, but defenses do not care one bit if he’s firing away from deep.

Even if we award him a passing grade on his shooting (I’m feeling generous), he quite literally brings nothing else to the table offensively. He’s ineffective as the roll-man, has not progressed with much of a pump-and-go game off the dribble, and is a zero as a passer. Granted, he’s not going to be asked to much of that with Ant and KAT using the majority of the possessions, but it still would be nice if he could contribute anything offensively beyond the occasional made three that defenses are gladly willing to give him.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Even aside from all of that, the biggest problem with Myles Turner is that he is a truly horrendous rebounder for someone standing 6’11”, 250lbs. For his career, Turner is averaging 6.7 rebounds per game, or 8.4 per-36 minutes. His 12.9 reb% is a brutal figure for a center. For reference, Vando’s reb% this season was 17.8%. Maybe this would look different if he had played more last year after the Sabonis trade, but I’m skeptical.

This is already a very poor defensive rebounding team, and removing Vanderbilt from the starting lineup for Turner would only exacerbate that issue. He is large in stature, but does not play like it at all with the exception of his rim protection. He is a better player in theory than what shows up on the court, in my opinion.

In addition to all of his own deficiencies, the part of the Turner discussion that has maybe bothered me the most is the failure to discuss if KAT can even play the 4. Towns is nimble for a center, but that’s different from being able to chase players around on the wing and get through a pin-down or flare screen. Towns and Turner would likely be staggered quite frequently, but similarly to Russell, you’d expect someone who is invested in as heavily as Turner will be to be able to close games.

In essence, you’re just swapping one flawed player on an expiring contract for another. Maybe Russell’s next contract is notably larger than Turner’s, but I’m not sure that’s a guarantee right now? Is it worth paying a first-round pick to save ownership a few bucks for one season? That’s dicey, at best, to me.

Enough already, what’s the verdict?

Basically, the verdict is that I’m a coward. Personally, I’m not in favor of a Turner trade if it requires D’Lo + filler + first round pick. The Wolves don’t have much in terms of salary filler that wouldn’t hurt to lose even just a bit, so the cost just seems high to me.

I am generally risk averse when it comes to spending valuable assets (first round pick) on non-star players. Sometimes it works out, but often times it feels like it does not. To me, this feels like paying a premium to move off of one imperfect player for a different, slightly less imperfect player.

Personally, I’d prefer the Wolves try to work out an extension with Russell for now, and go from there. He can’t reasonably expect to get max money at this point, so there should be a common ground for the two sides to find a deal that works for both sides.

With that said, building a contender requires taking risks. The wolves have their two centerpieces in KAT and Ant that they now need to maneuver around. Is Turner a significantly better it with them than D’Lo? Who knows. I’m skeptical, but I do admit that it’s possible, and it is the type of swing that teams need to make to level-up.

Either way, this figures to be a fascinating summer. I’d guess we will hear plenty of rumors and buzz around the Indiana Pacers big man.