The Domino Effect
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Usually, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Not this time.
In retrospect, Paul George probably would have been better off spinning the wheel at Caesar's. Instead, the Indiana Pacers forward slipped and fell while defending James Harden on the fast break, injuring his leg in gruesome fashion.
Doctors are calling it a compound fracture. For fantasy owners, it might as well be a hurricane.
Indiana's worst nightmare has unfolded. Who would have guessed one measly scrimmage could turn an entire season upside down? Let's take a closer look at George's injury and how it's affecting the NBA.
Should the Pacers throw away the season?
When the going gets tough, just tank! - Philadelphia 76ers mission statement
Okay that's not real, but it may as well be. The Sixers love tanking and why not? If you stockpile enough assets, eventually you'll have a pretty good team on your hands. And when all those players become too expensive to re-sign, the cycle starts over. Every team goes through this on some level.
So now back to the question at hand: is it time for Indiana to start over?
It depends on who you ask. Nate Silver, editor and chief of fivethirtyeight.com, for instance, strongly feels that Indiana should not tank. According to his calculations, the Pacers are still a 44-win team even without their best player. In a lackluster Eastern Conference, a 44-win season could be enough to secure home-court advantage in the first round.
But if the Pacers do decide to be as awful as possible, next year's draft lottery should be chock-full of talented big men (Cliff Alexander, Willie Cauley-Stein, Jalil Okafor and Karl Towns to name a few). Seven-footers are hard to come by in a league that's become increasingly dominated by wings and stretch fours, so certainly tanking would be an appealing possibility.
There are only three problems with that:
1) The Pacers have Roy Hibbert under contract for two more seasons, meaning they'd have to trade him to justify drafting a center. That's going to be a tough sell given his massive contract ($30 million left on Hibbert's current deal).
2) What the Pacers really need is a point guard. A lineup of Hibbert, David West and whichever shooting guard ends up starting (C.J. Miles or Rodney Stuckey) is still pretty imposing. George Hill, however, does not strike fear into anyone. Larry Bird may think otherwise but Hill is not the team's long- term answer at point guard. Neither is C.J. Watson (6.6 ppg last season).
With Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton all going in the top-ten, 2014 would have been a great year for the Pacers to have a lottery pick. Unfortunately, the class of 2015 has very few point guards to choose from. According to Draft Express, only two PGs are projected to go in the lottery: Emmanuel Mudiay, who is playing in China, and Duke freshman Tyrus Jones.
3) Commissioner Adam Silver is trying to put a stop to tanking. By October, the league could have a new system in place that gives the worst six teams an equal chance of landing the top pick. That actually may work to the Pacers' advantage since they have little chance of being the worst team in basketball and would probably have a better shot at being fifth or sixth-worst. Either way, it's a roll of the dice and Bird has never been a big gambler.
Given the circumstances, tanking seems like a long shot for the Pacers.
What trades are available for Indiana?
The Pacers would be wise to land a point guard in the near future, but right now, their most pressing need is at small forward. Under the safe assumption that George is lost for the season, Indiana's next best small forward is Chris Copeland. Nothing against Copeland, but that's not going to work. He's already 30 and his career scoring average is only 6.6 ppg.
So what are options B and C? Indiana could go big with a starting frontcourt of Hibbert, West and Luis Scola. Remember, Scola averaged close to 20 ppg for the Rockets three years ago. The other scenario would be to go small with either two shooting guards (Miles and Stuckey) or two point guards (Watson and Hill).
But somewhere down the line, the Pacers are going to need someone who can play the three. Keep in mind, George should be back in 2015-16, so the Pacers only need a one-year rental. The small forward market isn't huge but Indiana does have a few options. Some of these include Corey Brewer, DeMarre Carroll, Mike Dunleavy and Rudy Gay, who can all become unrestricted free agents after next season.
Out of those four, Gay is far and away the best player. But what would Indiana have to give up to get him? Unfortunately, the Pacers' best trade asset is Hibbert and the Kings have no use for him now that DeMarcus Cousins is locked up long-term.
The Pacers must be kicking themselves for not re-signing Evan Turner. Turner is probably kicking himself too because he's not even going to start for Boston. Jeff Green has a stranglehold on the small forward gig and the C's just signed Avery Bradley to a massive extension and are unlikely to sit someone who's making that much money. By that same token, I'm sure the Pacers would have offered Lance Stephenson (now with Charlotte) more money if they had known George was going to miss all of next season.
No matter what the Pacers decide to do, they're not going to be able to replace a talent like George.
How does George's injury affect Cleveland?
Hey Cleveland, it's been a while. After a four-year pause, the Cavaliers are back to being the most feared team in the Eastern Conference. But even with LeBron James in Cleveland, the Pacers still would have had a chance to push for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. With George injured, that possibility has been eliminated.
With Indiana no longer a threat, Cleveland could probably coast to the finals even without trading for Kevin Love. But if they do get Love, "probably" becomes a 100-percent certainty. Whether George's injury influences that decision remains to be seen, though I suspect Love for Andrew Wiggins is bound to happen sooner or later.
For fantasy purposes, a lineup of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, James, Love and Anderson Varejao would almost be too good. Assuming they all stay healthy and the Pacers fall back to the pack without George, the Cavaliers could have the No. 1 seed locked up by February. That would allow them to give their starters ample rest before the playoffs, an intriguing prospect, but not one that will appeal to many fantasy owners. If the fantasy guys had their way, the Cavs would be in kill mode for all 82 games. Now it might only be 62.
Do us a favor, Paul. Next time you're in Vegas, stick to blackjack.