24 Jan

Why Pacers’ Pascal Siakam trade feels a lot like Timberwolves’ deal for Rudy Gobert

The Indiana Pacers trading for Pascal Siakam feels a little bit like the Minnesota Timberwolves trading for Rudy Gobert. Hear me out: Two small-market franchises, both emboldened by the emergence of a young superstar, both a little a drunk on the possibility of becoming, perhaps overnight, a real postseason player, taking a high-risk flier on a big-name veteran whose best years may or may not be behind him.

In a vacuum, they both probably overpaid to do so. Minnesota basically mortgaged vital organs to get its hands on Gobert. Indiana didn’t give up as much for Siakam (though three first-round picks isn’t exactly a bargain), but the heaviest cost will come with the max contract they’ll likely have to give him this summer.

Siakam is not a max player, and he’s likely a depreciating asset. He’ll be well into his 30s at the end of whatever deal he signs next.

But in the context of a flyover franchise with limited appeal as a big-name destination (even in the case of Indiana, which could’ve had max space at its disposal), overpays are often the cost of business. Gobert is 31 years old and had $170 million in guaranteed money on his contract when the Wolves took him on.

At the moment, it would appear that Minnesota’s gamble has paid off. The Wolves, who made the playoffs just two times in the 18 years preceding the Gobert trade, look like a legit title contender, particularly if they can add some shooting juice at the deadline.

The Pacers, meanwhile, haven’t gotten past the first round since the Paul George days. Tyrese Haliburton, like Anthony Edwards in Minnesota, has gotten so good so quickly that the fear of missing out on even an outside opportunity to contend outweighs the fear of a compromised future.

The future, after all, might be now. Nobody is vaulting Indiana to the top of the title conversation after this trade, but nobody had Minnesota as a contender after the Gobert deal, either. Maybe the Pacers are closer than we think. Not every team is the Lakers or Warriors. For some teams, just being really good is the goal, and from there you cross your fingers. Truth is, everyone crosses their fingers these days.

Think about it: Outside of Boston, the East is wide open. The Pacers own the best offense in history. They have beaten the Bucks four times, the Celtics twice, split with the 76ers. And now they add a second All-Star level player, and it’s one that fits.

The Pacers play at a breakneck pace, and Siakam is a gazelle in the open floor. The Pacers drive and kick as much as any team, and Siakam, who is a more respected and capable shooter than his 32% clip would suggest, feasts on closeouts. He’ll live in the paint amid Indiana’s ample spacing. Indiana has deep scoring balance beneath Haliburton, but nobody who qualifies as a real No. 2 option. Siakam, at 22 points per game, is exactly that. He’s not the defender he once was, but he provides the wing length Indiana largely lacks. This really is a perfect marriage.

Where this will get tricky is next season, or a few years from now, if the Pacers are locked into a max-ish deal with Siakam and not really getting any better. The Hawks can tell you about this particular purgatory. They tried to expedite their timeline by trading the farm for Dejounte Murray — only to find themselves in Play-In Tournament perpetuity. It looks like they’re going to be selling him for 50 cents on the dollar at the Feb. 8 trade deadline or later this summer.

That may be the way this goes for the Pacers. Or, maybe, Siakam hits, if not over the rest of this season, then in the near future, like Gobert has in his second campaign in Minnesota. Maybe the Pacers aren’t even done dealing. It’s likely they aren’t, in fact. They still have a 2026 and 2028 pick they can trade. Obi Toppin and/or Jalen Smith could be dangled. Buddy Hield, who’s on an expiring deal, was supposed to be traded a long time ago. Just about every team would pick up a call about Bennedict Mathurin.

Indeed, a consolidation package can still be put together for a third wheel. A two-way wing would be the highest item on their priority list. How about the aforementioned Murray? Indiana has the two first-round picks Atlanta reportedly covets. Murray would be a third top-notch shot creator.

Jerami Grant would be even better. He’s a 41% 3-point shooter, and he and Siakam together would give Indiana the size on the wing to at least compete defensively in the playoffs. He makes a lot of money, and Indiana is already looking at close to a max contract for Siakam and a potential super-max for Haliburton should he make Al-NBA, which is pretty likely.

Want to pay a little less? How about Dorian Finney-Smith? Or Bojan Bogdanovic? The Pacers are dangerous right now. They’re not far from being a lot more than that.

But that’s speculation at this point. For now, Siakam is a major get for Indiana. The deal comes with a lot of risk, which I haven’t heard talked about much, but the potential reward warrants the reach. It doesn’t mean it will work out. But again, in the context of a franchise that can’t depend on optimal circumstances landing in their lap, a long shot is still a shot. Good on the Pacers, and the Timberwolves, for pulling the trigger.

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