Indiana Pacersâ€™ star Victor Oladipo has been the subject of trade rumors involving some NBA teams including the New York Knicks.
Pacersâ€™ president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard on Wednesday addressed the elephant in the room during the introductory press conference of their new head coach Nate Bjorkgren via Zoom call.
â€œWe have a great relationship,â€ Pritchard said. â€œHe feels good about the team. Heâ€™s talked to me about how he thinks this team can be very good. But you know, weâ€™re just taking it a day at a time.
Weâ€™re doing our best. And you know we hear a lot of things. But until it comes to me, I donâ€™t worry about that.â€
Pritchard said Oladipo has bought in during the whole hiring process of Bjorkgren. In fact, he was very vocal and optimistic of their chances for the next season.
â€œWe did a zoom [call] with the whole team yesterday and Victor spoke out as positive as Iâ€™ve ever seen,â€ Pritchard said.
Last month, Oladipo shut down all rumors and reiterated his commitment with the Pacers.
â€œIâ€™m a Pacer, man. Iâ€™m a Pacer, dog. Iâ€™m a Pacer,â€ Oladipo told rapper Fat Joe during an Instagram Live chat. â€œI canâ€™t control the rumors, man. Iâ€™m just focused on my knee. … Man, all the [rumors] on the internet, I donâ€™t know where they come from. Iâ€™m just in the background, working out, working on my knee, and trying to get right for next year.â€
Doubling down on his commitment to the Pacers, Oladipo was one of the first people who congratulated and welcomed Bjorkgren to the team.
“He texted me immediately. I was receiving texts every five seconds for five straight hours,” Bjorkgren said. “I called him right back. And heâ€™s just about to get ready to work out.”
The new Pacers coach described his conversation with his star as very welcoming and positive.
“We had a great talk. [We] talked about what I thought he could do, what I thought he could bring to this team. How he can make this team better and how we can make him better. Again, Iâ€™ve very much enjoyed talking to him yesterday. Heâ€™s a big-time player,” Bjorkgen said.
“[It’s] very welcoming. Like I said He texted me first. It wasnâ€™t just hey coach how are you doing. It was a nice text. And it was very welcoming. I like his energy. I think our energy fed off each other,” he added.
The Knicks are in a position to trade for a disgruntled star but it seems like Oladipo is happy with the Pacers. Despite all these positive pronouncements, the trade chatter will not just go away and will not prevent the Knicks or other teams from inquiring about him.
It’s more likely that Oladipo will play out the last year of his $85 million deal as a Pacer and evaluate everything after next season.
Pritchard though have hinted that they’re open to everything when he mentioned the buzz words “a day at a time” and “until it comes to me, I don’t worry about that”.
But the Pacers executive believes they have the trump card over other teams if everything goes according to plan.
“We have Victor for another year. We have a huge advantage. At the end of the day in re-signing Victor, if thatâ€™s what he wants to do because we can give him a five-year deal, [that’s] major bumps versus other teams. So the way the CBA was crafted, home team has huge advantage,” Pritchard said. “We feel Nate will build incredible relationships with our players.”
The Pacers can give Oladipo the most money without going over the cap. But the financial hit brought by the Covid-19 pandemic on Pacers owner Herb Simon’s mall chain business could factor in their future personnel decision.
The Knicks and the rest of the league will have to wait and will closely monitor Oladipo’s situation and how the Pacers’ season will play out with a new coach at the helm.
In late August, Pritchard had a heart to heart talk with the Pacers’ star after their Bubble exit. He came out of that meeting having the belief that the Pacers have a shot to keep Oladipo beyond next season.
“Iâ€™m hopeful that we can create an environment that he feels good about. That he feels like he can win. I think heâ€™s been pretty consistent in saying that the most important thing for him is that he can win. And I do believe that we can have a team that can do some good things in the playoffs,” Pritchard said. “At the end of the day, heâ€™s gotta feel good about being here. His biggest thing to me is consistently he wants to win.”
The Pacers are 3-16 in the playoffs over the last four seasons.
Bjorkgen will inherit a playoff contender led by Oladipo. Surrounding their star is the core of big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, NBA Bubble breakout star TJ Warren and backcourt stalwart Malcolm Brogdon.
The only thing going against them is that they are hard-capped to make any moves to complement their core.
It’s more likely that they will have to deal one of their big men (Turner or Sabonis) than trading Oladipo away. But Bjorkgen said in the presser that he could make it work with the two big men playing together at times.
It makes more sense for the Pacers and Oladipo to wait for the next season to arrive.
Oladipo’s current stock right now is not that high as he hasn’t shown in the NBA Bubble that he has completely recovered from the ruptured quadriceps tendon in his right knee.
The Pacers are not motivated to deal him with his current value. The more prudent thing for them to do is wait and bet that Oladipo comes back at full strength next season and that the Pacers can have a good run with Bjorkgren.
But if something goes awry, Oladipo will be the biggest trade deadline candidate. And Pritchard isn’t the kind of executive who’s not afraid to pull the trigger just like when he traded their former franchise player Paul George to Oklahoma City Thunder that netted them Oladipo and Sabonis.
The onus is on him to keep Oladipo happy with the team.
“If we can give him (Victor) an opportunity to be successful, I think weâ€™ll have a chance to keep him. If there will be a time that him and I will sit down, I think he has so much emotional credit with me. And I hope that Iâ€™ve earned that with him over the last few years that if it ever goes in a different direction, then he will let me know and I will let him know. Because itâ€™s a two-way street right? Itâ€™s gotta be a marriage. Itâ€™s good for both us,” Pritchard said.
“Sometimes you have to sit in front of someone, have a conversation, ask the tough questions. Be open and honest. And then you know, hey itâ€™s a great partnership or is it not. Those will have to take place. Iâ€™ve not heard anything other than he does want to be here. That he does want to make it work here. And so I take that at its face (value),” he added.
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