The uncertain future of the NBA, in relation to both decreasing revenues and the lack of collective bargaining peace between the players and ownership, has led to a myriad of trade rumors this season.
On Saturday, the first big trade of the calendar year went down as the Mavericks bolstered their title chances with the acquisition of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood from the struggling Wizards.
On Sunday, just hours prior to the All-Star Game in Dallas, another blockbuster deal, this one even bigger, was rumored as the Cavaliers were reportedly close to landing big-time forward Amare Stoudemire from the Suns.
While the Pacers have indeed been engaged in discussions with a number of teams, they are far from the forefront of rumors and headlines.
They are marred in a disappointing season, remaining on the outside of the postseason picture for the fourth straight season. In fact, after three years of just missing the second season, Indiana is stuck at 18-34 and in 13th place in the Eastern Conference.
Troy Murphy's name has been linked to a number of teams, from contenders (like Cleveland) and pretenders (like Sacramento), this month. His ability to rebound the basketball and also step out to hit a three, while stretching defenses, is a valuable commodity despite the $12 million he's owed next season.
Pacers president Larry Bird has preached patience, yet again, and the front office is steadfast in their plans to have almost unprecedented flexibility in the summer of 2011, no matter how much the salary cap reduces or the CBA alters the structure of player contracts.
If you are waiting for them to swing a deal in hopes of energizing their struggling roster; don't hold your breath.
Unless they can preserve their future flexibility and also acquire young pieces in return, perhaps in a deal with the Cavaliers for Murphy that nets them J.J. Hickson (unlikely), I expect Thursday to come and go without much activity in the heartland.
You can never point to injuries as an excuse, but Mike Dunleavy's delayed debut, Danny Granger's troublesome heel, the shin and ear troubles of Tyler Hansbrough and the back issues of Jeff Foster have often left the Pacers short-handed. No doubt other teams have suffered more debilitating injuries, but the Pacers didn't have much experienced depth to begin with.
While Murphy is really the only viable trade option this month, there will be a host of candidates this time next year.
Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, T.J. Ford and Jeff Foster all have significant contracts that expire after the 2010-11 season. If healthy, Foster likely would have been linked in serious talks this week, but his back issues have forced him to miss a majority of the season and surgery is expected.
Ford would have been a hot commodity around this time for a team looking for an upgrade at point guard, but doubts about whether he's lost a step and his unfriendly contract have put him out of most conversations. Most disagree, but if powers in the East and West continue to swing major deals (like the Mavs and Cavs) I wouldn't be surprised to see point-starved clubs at least inquire about Ford, if they haven't already.
In interest of kicking around potential targets for the Pacers, via trade this season or next, one would believe that there are really only two positions that they are comfortable with for the extended future; small forward (Granger) and center (Roy Hibbert).
They have Dunleavy, Brandon Rush and Dahntay Jones at off guard, but Dunleavy's contract expires after the 2012 season and there are health concerns, Rush has looked strong as of late but remains up-and-down overall and Jones is complementary player, not a starter or anchor.
Point guard, as it has been over the last five or so years, is a position of concern as well. Ford certainly isn't long for Indiana, whether he plays out his deal or not, and Watson isn't a long-term option. Rookie A.J. Price has shown some flashes, but I'd be more comfortable with him as a stopgap at point and an option at shooting guard as well. If nothing else, he has heart and the ability to score.
The last position would be power forward, although Hansbrough may have the ability to grab hold of the spot. He was successful when healthy this season, but injuries have limited his potential. He wouldn't be able to cause mismatches at the four like Murphy, but he's already proved he's worthy of at least 20 minutes a night.
Critics point to his shooting struggles, but one can't be certain that he was 100% healthy even when on the floor this season and he insists that it's not a major concern.
There are plenty of options on the horizon in Indiana. As things currently stand, they'll enter the 2010-11 season having missed the playoffs in four consecutive years after an almost unprecedented run of April and May basketball. Bird and general manager David Morway have been criticized by some for their lack of urgency on the trade market, but the payoff is finally inching closer.
Beginning with this offseason, when the immediate financial future of the NBA and the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement hopefully begin to surface, we should see the Pacers start to pull some strings.
There are plenty of them, let's just hope they don't get tangled up.