The Indiana Pacers and their Malcolm Brogdon conundrum

The Indiana Pacers and their Malcolm Brogdon conundrum

Butterfly effects impact everything around them. That is as true in the NBA as it is anywhere – and it’s especially true with administrative moves like trades. For example, would the Milwaukee Bucks have won the 2021 NBA championship without trading for Jrue Holiday? Probably not.

So, while new additions are discussed ad nauseum, trades also often result in diminished roles – or subsequent trades – for existing players who were firmly in a team's rotation. And with that in mind, I can’t help but turn my attention to the Indiana Pacers.

Indiana was lauded for a deadline deal that swapped Domantas Sabonis for Tyrese Haliburton. But lost in the shuffle of this major deadline deal is Malcolm Brogdon. It’s understandable that Haliburton, a 21-year-old averaging 20.7 points and 10.0 assists per game in only his sophomore season, attracts serious attention. But as recently as last season, it was Brogdon who was seen as the team's future point guard.

The former Rookie of the Year is quietly averaging 18.5 points, 5.9 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game this season. Granted, he’s shooting poorly (31% on three-pointers), but he leads the Pacers in assists, and he’s their third-leading scorer (prior to the trade) – not too shabby.

The Pacers have made it abundantly clear that they are rebuilding on-the-fly. They have a young core of Haliburton, Chris Duarte and Jalen Smith. Add in their 2022 first-round pick, as well as Cleveland’s 2022 first, and they are off to a good start.

Never mind Buddy Hield – although if the Pacers are serious about a rebuild, he should expect to be traded, too – but all of a sudden, Brogdon is probably feeling unwanted and underappreciated – and rightfully so. According to HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto, the Pacers may be open to moving Brogdon this summer.

If I’m being honest they should, but not due to production issues. As previously mentioned, Brogdon was playing good basketball this season prior to suffering an Achilles injury in December; Brogdon returned on Friday, Feb. 25, collecting 15 points (on 3 for 8 shooting on three-pointers), 4 assists and 4 rebounds in 31 minutes.

Instead, Brogdon should be moved because he simply doesn’t align with a rebuild. He’ll turn 30 in December, meaning he’ll be past his peak when the younger Pacers enter theirs. And while that may be moot given the unlikely nature of a team remaining together for five or more years in the modern era, it’s still probably unwise to waste a talented player like Brogdon on a team that won’t compete for a championship with him – especially when you can swap him for additional assets, allowing less valuable veterans to show Indiana’s youngsters the ropes.  

For better or worse, Brogdon is under the Pacers’ control. He just signed a two-year, $45 million extension last summer, which means he’s signed to Indiana through 2025 with no player option. Given the bad press Ben Simmons received for his hold out in Philadelphia, Brogdon is unlikely to go that route – and it may be out of the plan altogether for Brogdon, anyway, who seemed excited to play alongside the younger Haliburton.

“I’m excited to play with him. I think he’s honestly similar to me,” Brogdon told the media on Feb. 23. “Just the way he plays the game, the way he thinks [of] the game. He’s a great young player.”

Still, what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. So, how can Indiana extract the most value for Brogdon while continuing to build? The Pacers will have to look to engage teams that hope to compete in the near future in trade talks – but those without well-stocked backcourts will be especially interested. So, who does that leave? 

New York Knicks

Of course, New York will be mentioned as a destination for Brogdon, as they haven’t had a consistent and legitimate starting point guard in decades. Further, after experiencing success in 2020-21, New York is starving for more.

The benefit of dealing with the Knicks is that they have a good deal of draft capital and lots of short-term and/or expiring deals. To achieve $22.6 million in outgoing salary, New York would probably like to include Evan Fournier – although that’s unlikely give the length of his contract. From a salary perspective, an Alec Burks-Kemba Walker-Immanuel Quickley deal is probably more likely. Remember, Walker will be expiring next season. The Knicks will probably be hesitant to move Quickley, but they’ll have to give up something to get Brogdon.

But those three alone won't get it done. Indiana will demand draft picks, too. Fortunately, the Knicks have all of theirs and then some. If the Knicks are willing to part with two future picks (at least one of which being a first-rounder), that probably gets it done – especially if that first-rounder is their own 2022 first-round pick. 

Consensus – it could happen.

Los Angeles Lakers

It’s way harder to find a deal that works for the Lakers. Technically, though, if things fall their way, Los Angeles could offer something.

First of all, the Lakers need Kendrick Nunn to pick up his player option – although that’s not out of the question as Nunn has yet to play this season. And remember the hype around Nunn just a year or so ago? While he’s far from a sure thing, Indiana could view the 26-year-old as a possible rotation piece.

But Nunn’s option is worth only $5 million. The Lakers would also have to include Talen Horton-Tucker, who will make approximately $10 million in 2022-23 – and they still need to add another $7 million. If they pick up Stanley Johnson’s option ($2.3 million) and include him and other minimum guys, technically that gets them there.

But is that enough value to return Brogdon? I can speak for Indiana here – no, it’s not. Making matters worse, the Lakers draft pick situation is murky. They can’t trade a future first-rounder with certainty until 2027. That’s probably too undefined for Indiana.

Consensus – won’t work unless a third team is involved

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are in a similar spot as the Lakers in terms of draft picks – they can really only offer the 76ers' 2022 first-rounder, and they might not have enough promising youth to get a deal done.

Brooklyn can offer Seth Curry ($8.5 million), Cam Thomas ($2.1 million) and Day’Ron Sharpe ($2.1 million) – but they’re still about $10 million away from matching salaries. They can potentially work in a sign-and-trade deal including Nic Claxton, too, who will be a restricted free agent – but that becomes far more complicated.

Still, would a deal involving Curry, Thomas, Sharpe, Claxton and a Philadelphia first-rounder be enough for Brogdon? It’s not a bad haul – but Indiana would have to be confident that at least one of those players is a long-term starter, and I’m not sure that’s the case.

Consensus – unlikely, but it’s possible

Washington Wizards

It might surprise folks to see Washington on this list, but remember, the Wizards are still trying to convince Bradley Beal to remain in Washington. They're hoping to compete with Beal and (probably) Kristaps Porzingis. A big three of Beal, Porzingis and Brogdon is actually a pretty good core that seemingly complements each other.

But Indiana will be doing their Eastern Conference rivals no favors. So, what’s in it for the Pacers? Well, the Wizards have a pretty decent war chest of assets. They can send out Rui Hachimura ($6.2 million) Deni Avdija ($4.9 million) and Kyle Kuzma ($13 million). Both Hachimura and Avdija are former lottery picks, and they are only 24 and 21, respectively. Alternatively, if Washington is intent on keeping Kuzma, they can send a combination of Corey Kispert ($3.5 million), Vernon Carey Jr. ($1.7 million), Cassius Winston ($1.5 million qualifying offer) and others.

But the Wizards lack draft capital – the next first-rounder Washington can include is their 2028 pick. So, Indiana would have to be really high on Hachimura and Avdija – which is possible, but the Pacers might not view them favorably as others do. 

Consensus – could happen

Ultimately, the Pacers must decide to move on from Brogdon before any trades can be examined, but it’s in their best interest to do so. And while the teams that are most likely to be interested don’t necessarily have the right assets to make Indiana jump at a deal, most of them have interesting pieces that should at least make Indiana consider a move.  

Where Brogdon plays the 2022-23 season and beyond is still anyone’s guess – but it shouldn’t be with Indiana. And that’s in the best interest of Brogdon and the Pacers.

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