Pacers’ accelerated timeline might have them looking to improve at trade deadline

One key factor in this quiet NBA trade market midway through January is the league’s dearth of obvious sellers. Among the association's 30 teams, 23 clubs have clear intentions of competing for the postseason, as opposed to dealing established players for draft capital and/or prospects. Even the 12-33 Detroit Pistons have maintained to rival executives their preference to keep Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks, sources said, barring tremendous returns for either veteran perimeter scorer.

Indiana’s surprising success has done no favors for hopeful buyers around the league, both in terms of filling a coveted East playoff spot and perhaps eliminating another expected seller from the board. At the onset of this season, Indiana expected to vie for a top-five pick in this June’s draft, with the organization sending 12 staffers to Las Vegas in October to scout Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson. Today, the Pacers are 23-19 and sixth in current playoff positioning.

There’s indeed a growing sense among rival teams that Indiana will search for upgrades ahead of the Feb. 9 trade deadline, albeit with an eye trained toward players who fit the Pacers’ long-term vision. This is not a potential Jae Crowder suitor or a playoff contender trying to pry Bogdanovic from Detroit.

Indiana has been looking for a power forward for several seasons, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and that position appears to be the logical place for an upgrade alongside center Myles Turner, who has flourished this season with point guard Tyrese Haliburton. The status of Haliburton’s knee injury, sustained during Wednesday's loss to New York, could certainly impact Indiana’s deadline decision-making.

The Pacers highly valued Keegan Murray in last year’s draft, sources said, before he was selected fourth by Sacramento, and Indiana happily came away with stellar rookie shooting guard Bennedict Mathurin at the sixth selection. All of Jalen Smith, Isaiah Jackson and Aaron Nesmith have since had their opportunities slotting next to Turner at forward this season. Nesmith’s strong performance from that starting position has brought the most encouraging results, and the Vanderbilt product appears to be in line to hold that role at least until Indiana finds greater ammunition at power forward.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 08: Myles Turner #33 of the Indiana Pacers reacts during the game against the Charlotte Hornets] at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on January 8, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Myles Turner remains a major factor in the direction of the Pacers' future. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Should Indiana choose to add to this developing core, the Pacers will have three first-round picks in the upcoming draft. Indiana has its own pick, plus projected late-opening-round selections coming from Cleveland (by way of last year’s deadline deal of Caris LeVert) and Boston (via last July’s trade of Malcom Brogdon to the Celtics). And while the Pacers had marked second-year guard Chris Duarte off-limits in trade conversations with some opposing personnel, multiple front office figures told Yahoo Sports that Indiana has since made the 25-year-old available in recent dialogue.

Would a combination of Duarte and draft capital be enough to satisfy Atlanta’s desired value in return for John Collins? Indiana has internally discussed the prospect of adding Collins, sources told Yahoo Sports.

In the offseason, the Hawks pitched a similar concept of Collins to New Orleans for Trey Murphy and first-round draft compensation, sources said, though Duarte’s current league-wide value appears lower than Murphy's. At this juncture, the Pacers would not need to match Collins’ salary if they take him into cap room.

And if the Pacers look to send out significant draft capital for a forward, could they even set their sights on the Raptors to target former Hoosier OG Anunoby? PJ Washington would present another, more cost-effective acquisition at this year’s deadline before the Hornets forward reaches free agency this offseason.

We’ll learn more about Indiana’s accelerated timeline from the results of the Pacers’ final contract discussions with Turner. Indiana and Turner’s new representatives at CAA are in fluid extension conversations, sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports. The maximum Indiana can offer Turner in a simple extension would be $96.7 million over four seasons, and that is indeed the early range for Turner’s talks that has circled around the league.

Turner, though, is in line for a far richer payday if he and the Pacers can renegotiate and extend his contract, thanks to the team’s $27 million in outstanding cap room, should they not acquire a substantial salary such as that of Collins first. With that much flexibility, the Pacers can boost Turner’s $18 million salary this season to his maximum of roughly $37.1 million at seven years of service, and then the team has the capability to drop his 2023-24 salary as low as $22.3 million. Indiana will need to spend in some capacity because it is roughly $15 million below the league’s $111 million salary floor, and the team would be required to disperse that amount in even increments throughout the roster if the payroll doesn’t reach the floor by year’s end.

The significant payday Turner is seeking could fill that gap altogether. He can renegotiate and extend to upward of $180 million over four years, according to cap calculations provided to Yahoo Sports, with the Pacers’ recent four-year, $133 million offer sheet to Deandre Ayton an obvious benchmark any agent would use in negotiations. Turner has expressed a desire to reach unrestricted free agency in the past, sources said, but he would also welcome a long-term future in Indiana now that he has emerged as the franchise’s focal point in the frontcourt. The sides have until March 1 to agree to new terms, which would then make Turner ineligible to be dealt for six months.

The trade chatter surrounding Turner has indeed seemed to cool. For years, the Hornets presented a likely landing spot. But now, Charlotte doesn't appear very keen on upgrading its roster ahead of the deadline. The interest from Dallas and New Orleans in recent seasons has also dissipated, sources said. And the Lakers seem content to wait for a bigger return for their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks than the potential acquisition of Turner and Buddy Hield that was discussed before the season.

If Turner’s contract talks ultimately stall, New York and Toronto have registered interest in recent transaction cycles, sources said. The Knicks hold a trove of first-round draft capital to spend, though the recent performance of Mitchell Robinson might quell any of New York’s attempts to upgrade its frontcourt. The Clippers remain legitimate suitors for Turner as well, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Indiana’s center most likely to be traded is fourth-year big man Goga Bitadze. If an opportunity arises, the Pacers will be willing to work in tandem with Bitadze’s representation to find him a new team, sources said, especially with Daniel Theis on track to return in the next few weeks. Bitadze has seen limited playing time and has been uninterested in joining Indiana’s G League outfit in Fort Wayne.

Will the Jazz be active in the market?

After Utah’s early-season success, league personnel are expecting the Jazz to introduce another seller into the trade deadline. Utah has received plenty of incoming calls on both Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, sources told Yahoo Sports, with the Jazz’s perceived valuation of a first-round pick for each player. Perhaps Vanderbilt is another young forward who the Pacers believe has enough upside to grow alongside Turner.

The Jazz and Hawks have discussed a deal surrounding John Collins for Beasley and Vanderbilt, sources said, though Utah has lobbied Atlanta for a first-round pick in addition to Collins to complete that framework.

Jordan Clarkson is not considered a trade candidate at this time, as Utah would like to keep the veteran scorer beyond this season, sources said. The Jazz, though, are prohibited by CBA rules from offering Clarkson a contract extension in his desired range of $20 million of average annual value, and Clarkson appears set to reach unrestricted free agency.

How can the Suns move Jae Crowder?

A three-team framework continues to be the most likely avenue to eventually grant Jae Crowder’s exit out of Phoenix. For the Suns to land a coveted target such as Hornets forward Jalen McDaniels, Phoenix could attempt to rope in Milwaukee, for example, as the Bucks have consistently discussed Grayson Allen with rival teams. McDaniels, however, is considered a favorite of Charlotte general manager Mitch Kupchak, sources said, and it would likely require more of a return than Allen and the second-round capital Milwaukee can deal to land McDaniels from the Hornets.

The Suns have also left opposing front offices with the impression that Phoenix is searching for greater guard depth, targeting ball handlers who could function as reserves to Chris Paul and long-term replacements for the future Hall of Fame floor general.

Kyle Kuzma’s future

Washington is another team that has expressed interest in Collins. But Wizards officials have stood firm that the franchise intends to keep Kyle Kuzma — a known Hawks target — past the trade deadline and hopes to re-sign the high-scoring forward this offseason after he declines the 2023-24 player option in his contract as expected.

76ers looking ahead

Philadelphia will be active in exploring ways to add to its quest for a championship, especially following the team’s recent 15-3 stretch. Philadelphia officials have been encouraged by the pairing of Joel Embiid and James Harden, as well as the team’s overall performance, despite each All-Star, Tyrese Maxey and other contributors missing significant time due to injury.

There is also a financial aspect that might underscore the Sixers’ trade deadline efforts if the right upgrades don’t materialize. This season currently marks Philadelphia’s third straight year as a taxpayer, which would subject the Sixers to pay repeater tax rates on every dollar over the 2023-24 tax threshold. The Sixers are hovering just above this year’s tax line at present, which could put players such as Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle and Jaden Springer in the trade conversation.

Richaun Holmes available

Richaun Holmes is available for trade, league sources told Yahoo Sports. After signing a four-year, $46 million deal in the 2021 offseason, Holmes has not been part of head coach Mike Brown’s rotation this season.