For sure now, forget the playoffs
Larry Bird did a very smart thing during the period leading up to Thursday's 3 p.m. NBA trading deadline.
He did nothing.
Well, not really nothing. He did make phone calls, did accept them, did talk various deals with other NBA teams. But when it came time to pull the trigger, the Indiana Pacers president stood pat, and for that, Pacers fans -- at least those who are capable of thinking beyond next week -- should be suitably satisfied.
Too often in recent years, the Pacers have been forced to make bad deals under distress. They had to trade Ron Artest and walked away with a Peja Stojakovic rental. They had to trade Stephen Jackson and ended up with two solid but overpaid and untradeable players, Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy.
Right now, the only trades out there for the Pacers are bad trades. Deals that bring in further drains on the salary cap. Deals that force them to part with cap-relievers like Rasho Nesterovic and Marquis Daniels, two guys with expiring contracts. Virtually all of the deals out there could be summed up this way:
Our junk for their junk.
What's the point?
"We weren't willing to take on long-term deals with players who weren't going to be part of our core group," general manager David Morway said. ". . . We weren't going to do anything to reduce our cap flexibility, which was something we worked really hard to get and wanted to retain. If we could have added a draft pick, we would have, but teams are holding on to them for now."
There were only three good reasons to make a deal:
To rid the franchise of Jamaal Tinsley, the multi-million-dollar albatross.
To add to the team's cap flexibility down the road.
To bring in an additional draft pick.
On all three fronts, good luck.
Nobody is dumb and desperate enough to trade for Tinsley. Every point guard in the NBA could come down with peanut-butter-induced salmonella, and still, nobody would make the move to bring in the Tin Man.
And with the NBA looking at a lower salary-cap and luxury-tax threshold in coming seasons, the two most valuable commodities are added cap flexibility and draft choices.
There was no reason for the Pacers to panic and make a deal they would later regret. The record isn't what they hoped it would be, but on a lot of fronts, this season has been a relative success. They dumped Jermaine O'Neal's contract, brought seven new players into the system, established an entertaining offensive style of play and . . . no gun play or appearances on the police blotter.
Standing pat is a difficult, counterintuitive thing for Bird, who breathes to win and has just one year left on his deal. It would have been tempting to make a deal that would have brought in a player like, say, Tyson Chandler, the defense-minded New Orleans center who might have given the Pacers a boost in the effort to earn a playoff spot.
But what sense would that have made, short term or long term? Especially now with word that Danny Granger is going to be out of the lineup for 10 days to three weeks with a foot injury, and talk that Mike Dunleavy might not return this season?
News flash: They're not going to make the playoffs. They weren't going to make the playoffs even before the Granger injury. The Eastern Conference is fool's gold that dupes lousy teams into thinking they can sneak into that eighth spot. They should have forgotten about the postseason a long time ago. Keep playing Roy Hibbert, who has developed into a possible core player. Play Brandon Rush, a disappointing basket case whose only chance of emerging from his shell is by getting minutes.
Forget the fact that nobody was offering anything worthwhile to the Pacers. Ask yourself this: Who do the Pacers have who might be worthwhile to another team? And would the Pacers be willing to part with that player?
Granger is untouchable, unless Cleveland calls and offers LeBron James.
I wouldn't move Hibbert, who has a chance to be a solid center for years to come. I wouldn't move Rush, who's too young to be dismissed as a bust. I wouldn't move Nesterovic or Daniels, whose expiring contracts will free up roughly $15 million. The Pacers blundered by moving Austin Croshere for Daniels just when Croshere's expiring deal made him the most valuable.
Now, one guy who is valuable to other teams and a guy I would move is Jeff Foster, and it boggles the mind to comprehend why the Pacers appear to be so keen on keeping him. Great guy, solid citizen and he plays hard, but he's a rotation player and he's starting to break down.
In the end, it was a quiet day for the Pacers, just as it was for most of the league. That was a good thing for Indiana. A smart thing. A patient thing. This isn't about this year. It's about next year, and the years after that.
I seriously don't understand why he called Brandon Rush a "basket case". The kid hasn't done a damn thing to deserve something like that, or maybe I'm just reading it the wrong way.