Pacers’ focus goes beyond free agency, believe trade market ‘could be better than ever’

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Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan talk about the Pacers two days after a game seven loss to Cleveland in the NBA’s first round, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Tuesday, May 1, 2018. (Robert Scheer/IndyStar) (Robert Scheer/IndyStar)

INDIANAPOLIS — Typically, the best ways for teams in smaller markets such as the Indiana Pacers to upgrade their rosters is through the draft or trades — not free agency.

For it to work in the draft, where the top players are often 19 or 20 years old and the margin of error to gauge their ceiling is greater, development takes time unless you get someone like LeBron James in 2003.

Free agency, where the Pacers don’t have a successful track record, and trades can produce immediate results. The players have more experience, maturity and there’s no guesswork aside from assessing how they fit with the team already in place.

“I personally think the trade market could be better than ever," Pacers president Kevin Pritchard said. "It’s because there’s not as many teams with cap space this summer and when that happens, normally teams get aggressive in trades to change their team. How aggressive we’ll be? I don’t know yet. I haven’t calculated where the market will be.”

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With that take from Pritchard in mind, here are some (not all) of the teams that could be in for a shakeup. Some desperately need to start over, change to get to the next level, or shed salary, which might mean parting with a quality player viewed as a luxury but who could be an asset elsewhere:

Washington Wizards: A luxury tax team, they appear stuck. Not good enough to compete for a championship and not bad enough to get a lottery pick who could change the trajectory of the franchise. While John Wall and Bradley Beal appear to be locked in, what to do with Otto Porter — a 3-and-D small forward — is the issue. He’s hurt now. He probably isn’t an option, but the Wizards need relief (and more draft picks) and have a few intriguing options for helping alleviate their burden (Kelly Oubre, Tomas Satoransky, Marcin Gortat).

Toronto Raptors: If their current playoff run ends in the conference semifinals, sweeping changes will be imperative because they are a tax team, too. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are due $58 million for next season, so their price tags will be too high for some. The Raptors have promising youth/role players in Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.

Cleveland Cavaliers: A tax team, they’re in for changes even if LeBron James stays. If he doesn’t stay, this becomes a total rebuild. And if another team lands James, it’ll have to gut its roster to get him. Would this put Kevin Love on the market? He’s three years into a five-year deal, so a team would be on the hook for $24 million and $25.6 million. Kyle Korver will have just one fully guaranteed season left just less than $7.6 million.

Miami Heat: For a team that didn’t get out of the first round, like the Wizards, they didn’t get the bang for their buck. They’re just $1 million below the projected tax line ($123 million). Kelly Olynyk is a 3-point shooting big on a reasonable contract given the recent salary explosions, but he will have as many as three years left on his $50 million deal. James Johnson is a rugged power forward who actually can run offense and pick-and-rolls, defend in the post and shoot the 3 in spots, though he’s not a marksman.

Detroit Pistons: The deal for Blake Griffin pushed their cap way up. The Pistons are just $5 million below the tax line. Jon Leuer, who has two years left on his deal of about $20 million, is an affordable 3-point shooting forward if he recovers from an injury-plagued season.

L.A. Clippers: They’re already over the cap but $9.6 million below the tax, and they’ve been active in the market for the better part of the season. Lou Williams remains their most popular commodity because of his 3-point shooting off the bench. Also, he’s under contract for two more years at just $7 million per season.

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