INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Larry Bird and Kevin Pritchard couldn’t wait for the draft to start remaking the Pacers roster.
So they started early.
One day after acquiring the natural point guard Indiana has long sought, Bird filled the Pacers’ next biggest need with another pre-draft move. He got power forward Thaddeus Young from the Brooklyn Nets for the 20th overall pick. Indiana subsequently selected forward Caris LeVert of Michigan to complete the deal that cannot officially be announced till the new salary cap takes effect. The Pacers also drafted forward Georges Niang in the second round.
“I think it’s a little bit of a misnomer saying we’re going to go small or going to go big,” said Pritchard, the general manager. “What we want is to be able to put a team out there that has multiple playmakers. It doesn’t matter if they’re 7-foot or 5-5. It’s switching defenses and if you can’t do that, they’ll take you out of your offense. Georges can do that.”
Heading into this week, many thought Bird, the Pacers president of basketball operations, would try to find more young talent to put around 26-year-old Paul George, a three-time All-Star, and 20-year-old Myles Turner, a second-team all-rookie selection last season.
Instead, Bird focused on the near term by bringing in players who can make an immediate impact.
By sending starting guard George Hill to Utah and getting All-Star Jeff Teague from Atlanta in a three-team trade Wednesday, a deal that also cannot yet be announced officially, the Pacers gave up a little defense for a slightly younger player who appears to be better-suited to play the up-tempo style Bird and Pritchard prefer.
At 6-foot-8, 221 pounds, Young gives the Pacers an experienced, athletic big man who can help continue the transition to small ball. Plus, he will help fix another major flaw Toronto exposed in last season’s first-round playoff series — rebounding.
All Young cost the Pacers was a little room under the soon-to-be expanded salary cap and LeVert, who missed 21 of 36 games last season with a broken left foot that he first injured in 2014-15 and re-injured last season. LeVert averaged 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists in the 15 games he did played in 2015-16.
Technically, LeVert became the first Big Ten player chosen by the Pacers since Indiana’s Damon Bailey was a second-round pick in 1994.
But the Pacers saw no reason to wait on a young, first-round talent after picking up two proven players still in their 20s.
Even Niang fits that bill. Bird took a more conventional approach on his third roster move in less than 36 hours by taking Niang at No. 50 overall. The 6-foot-9, 231-pound Iowa State product averaged 16.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.1 steals during his four-year college career but was knocked by scouts for his athleticism. The Pacers expect him to add depth to their bench.
“The game is athletic, but I think he has gotten by because he’s crafty. My boss is pretty crafty, too,” Pritchard said, referring to Bird. “That spread four is something we’ve really longed for. So that was really important to us as well.”
It’s likely to be the start of a busy few weeks for the Pacers.
Four players on last season’s roster, including starting center Ian Mahinmi and 2013 first-round pick Solomon Hill, will become unrestricted free agents. Indiana also is expected to have plenty of room under the luxury tax threshold to spend.
Pritchard didn’t drop any hints about how Indiana plans to use that cash.
“I don’t think we’re done,” he said. “I think we have to get to July 1 and that will be a highly competitive (free agent) market.”