INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Pritchard’s aggressive offseason was derailed by Paul George’s decision.
So the team’s new president of basketball operations went all in on Plan B. He needs it to pay off.
On Friday, Pritchard talked about using the two young players acquired in last week’s deal with Oklahoma City as being key elements in a rebuilding project that will likely be the defining moment of his tenure.
“Paul was not staying beyond this year and we had no chance. I thought we were in a good place, but at the end of the day he wanted to be with another team,” Pritchard said in his first public comments since word leaked about the deal. “We have to move on. It’s like a rebirth for the franchise.”
Or a major rebuild.
The conventional wisdom around the league is that the Pacers didn’t get enough in return for a 27-year-old, four-time All-Star who is still in the prime of his career.
Once George’s camp let the whole basketball world know he intended to sign with his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in free agency next summer, his value dropped and put Pritchard in a bind.
“Could you have gotten more?” Pritchard said when asked if George would have kept his plans private. “Absolutely.”
Of all those enticing trade rumors, Pritchard estimated only about 5 percent were actually true.
But rather than gamble on future draft picks and start completely start from scratch, the Pacers did the next best thing — bringing in 25-year-old guard Victor Oladipo and 21-year-old forward Domantas Sabonis.
Both are former lottery picks who Pritchard believes will become starters and will team with promising third-year center Myles Turner to give the Pacers a viable long-term nucleus.
The good news for Pacers fans is that in a watered-down Eastern Conference, with only four established playoff teams, everyone else, including Indiana, is in some form of rebuild mode.
“People want to know are we a playoff team?” coach Nate McMillan said. “Kevin’s going to build this team, but I can tell you as a coach, we always play to win.”
Pritchard may just be warming up, too.
At a news conference to introduce the Pacers’ newest additions — Oladipo, Sabonis and free agent guard Darren Collison — Pritchard said he was hoping to add a small forward before the end of the weekend.
Less than three hours later, a person with knowledge of the situation said the Washington Wizards had renounced the rights to free agent Bojan Bogdanovic so he could agree to a two-year, $21 million deal with the Pacers. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because it had not yet been announced.
Bogdanovic is considered one of Europe’s top shooters and could contribute immediately in George’s old spot.
“My guess is we’ll add one more wing, who we’re having conversations with right now,” Pritchard said before the deal was finalized.
The trade market remains open, too, and Pritchard has already demonstrated he’s not afraid to change the norms.
He waived guard Monta Ellis on Thursday, ridding the Pacers of a 12-year veteran who had lost his starting job and a two-year deal worth more than $11 million per season.
And he took a shot on Collison, the point guard who had a rugged season in Sacramento and who played with the Pacers from 2010-12.
“We still have some positions to fill but you look at Darren and Vic and they are a perfect fit,” McMillan said. “I intend to let them go and play their game. I think defensively, they’ll get after it. I love their motors and you just have to let them go.”
But what Pritchard really wanted was a bright future.
He wanted young veterans who still had room to grow.
He chased guys he could keep in town for a few years.
He avoided overpriced contracts or the notion he had to completely start over and instead has a roster that still needs some fine-tuning but could make the playoffs.
“We looked at a lot of different models, some where you got really bad, some that would have gotten you toward the middle and some that would have capped you out and you might not make the playoffs,” Pritchard said. “We think we can be very competitive next year and we feel like we have a team that can grow over the next two years.”