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Potential Clippers-Pacers trades to shake up two incomplete cores

Following The Athletic’s recent report on Indiana’s desire to rebuild, we take a look at what trades might make sense for the Clippers to explore.

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Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Clippers

Almost four-and-a-half years ago, the following was tweeted from the Clips Nation account.

If only it was always (or ever) that easy. But it’s funny, considering the fact that yet again, the Pacers are looking to start anew. At least that’s what reports are saying. Per The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Bob Kravitz, the Pacers are receptive to trade talks on Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner, with an emphasis on shaking up the latter duo. The plan, for now, is reportedly to emphasize playing time for the team’s younger players like Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson, those that Indiana’s brass hopes to include as part of their foundation. It’s long been known that Sabonis and Turner don’t fit together; the team, reportedly, finally seems willing to act on that reality.

What’s funniest is how those two bigs were brought together in the first place — the 2017 Paul George trade with Oklahoma City forced them to play together, given that they were two budding talents on a team that lacked a definitive core.

Now, though the Clippers weren’t involved in the 2017 trade that took Paul George out of Indy, that’s not a difficult game of six degrees of separation to play. After all, George ended up in Los Angeles. Might there be a way that the Clippers can become directly involved with the Pacers this time around? Maybe it’s unrealistic (even unnecessary), but there are ways that both teams could improve via trade. It’s worth remembering, the Clippers had some interest in Turner last season. Who’s to say they still aren’t itching to get him in black, white, and blue?

Plus, I’m a sucker for any opportunity to play with the trade machine. Let’s explore a few scenarios.

LA Clippers v Indiana Pacers
Turner’s fit alongside Sabonis has been questioned for years now. Perhaps the Clippers have the means — and the interest — in splitting them up for their benefit.
Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

What feels most sensible for both parties

Pacers receive: Luke Kennard, Ivica Zubac, 2022 2nd round pick, 2024 2nd round pick

Clippers receive: Myles Turner, T.J. McConnell (or Justin Holiday)

Maybe I’m being naive, but in my eyes, of the four players in this trade, Turner is the most exciting, the most accomplished, and the one who will immediately make the biggest impact on the team to which he is traded. Since the days of DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers have yet to roster a truly dynamic big man, one who is multi-dimensional on both ends. I’m not sure they’ve ever had one who is undeniably reliable in late-game, late-season scenarios, though Zubac is the closest to filling that hole. Sure, the Lakers look silly for trading Zubac to the Clippers in 2019 for a bag of potatoes (translation: Mike Muscala), but while Zubac’s output with the Clippers has been steady, it’s not something that can put them over the top.

With the Pacers, Zubac would immediately become one of the league’s most powerful, valuable reserves, called upon to replace Domantas Sabonis as a sixth-man center, and likely playing his way to a massive contract elsewhere (or extension, should he wish to stay in Indiana in this hypothetical scenario) in the process. Not to mention, the Pacers seem far more eager to build around Sabonis than they do his current counterpart, who lands with the Clippers in this particular scenario.

Here’s the deal, though: McConnell can’t be traded until March 3 because he re-signed using Bird rights with a 20% raise in salary, and the Pacers are over the cap. So, this becomes a trade that has to wait to be made until the offseason, unless the Clippers are cool with Justin Holiday being a piece in the trade instead of McConnell. But McConnell, who, on defense, is basically Patrick Beverley after three steps of Pokémon-like evolution, is slightly more attractive as an addition. He’s a win-now player, as is Turner, and though Holiday is a capable piece for a contender, I personally don’t believe he has as much upside as his recently-signed teammate.

There’s also the matter of the Pacers wanting more draft capital, and the Clippers having very little to offer. They have second-round picks galore, but second-rounders in the NBA are hardly what they are in the NFL (which is to say, they’re 90 percent useless). If the Pacers are game to start over, they’ll want picks that guarantee them an opportunity to do that as soon as possible. Los Angeles isn’t exactly the trade partner that offers that, but on the talent front, their swaps might just be enough to offset the draft discrepancy.

Indiana Pacers v Sacramento Kings
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

The completely bonkers three-teamer I simply had to dream up

Pacers receive: Marvin Bagley III, Ivica Zubac, Reggie Jackson, Keon Johnson, LAC 2022 2nd round pick, LAC 2027 1st round pick (Top-8 Protected)

Clippers receive: De’Aaron Fox, Myles Turner, Justin Holiday

Kings receive: Luke Kennard, Eric Bledsoe, Caris LeVert, IND 2024 1st round pick (Top-8 Protected), two LAC 2nd round picks (2023, 2025 via DET)

Chaos ensues along this branch of the sacred timeline. And I’m here for it. Not just because I feel it serves the missions of the three teams involved in varying ways — really, I think it does! I’ll explain — but because it reshapes the top of the Western Conference for the now, and helps map out the futures for two middling-if-not-floundering teams.

The Clippers get a prolific point guard in Fox, one who has a dire need to get out of dodge; Sacramento, also, needs to move on. I don’t mean to be blunt, but the Kings need to start over. Tyrese Haliburton, Davion Mitchell, and future draft picks feel like a more tenable approach to growth in a competitive league than hanging on to players that don’t fit in their scheme overall just because of the optics.

Turner in Los Angeles is an immediate starter and contributor, one who would make for a beautiful pick-and-pop pairing with Paul George. Imagine he and Fox trading inside-out passes; imagine Fox running the offense, and the Turner-Kawhi Leonard tandem anchoring one of the league’s most demoralizing defenses. Plus, Holiday makes his way into this trade due to the Clippers having to give up Reggie Jackson, and Holiday is an ideal 3-and-D player for a contender. It all makes sense. It helps everyone involved. And I’ll die on the hill that Turner is the best asset Indiana has to offer, even if they don’t market it that way.

Meanwhile, both the Pacers and Kings get to start over. The Pacers get a distressed asset in Marvin Bagley III, who I’m convinced still has something there; a dependable, tradeable big in Ivica Zubac who might be someone to move later on, or someone to replace Sabonis if the Pacers elect to move on from him, too; the veteran scoring presence of Reggie Jackson, who has proven time and again that his ceiling will raise in various ways depending on the situation; untapped youth in Keon Johnson; and draft picks. The Kings get veteran presences, too — one of whom they can keep for the future (LeVert) — and draft capital from both sides. The Bledsoe and Kennard contracts aren’t ideal, but what would be ideal is for them both to boost their trade values on a tanking team in preparation for when they’re shipped off for assets down the line.

Sure, variants and strands of the timeline are bound to run wild. But we all watched Loki. We’re prepared for this.

Los Angeles Clippers v Indiana Pacers
Sabonis and Turner have been the prized assets in all fake Pacers trades of late, but let’s not forget what Caris LeVert brings to the table as a playmaker
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The BIG win

Pacers receive: Luke Kennard, Ivica Zubac, Eric Bledsoe, two 2nd-round picks (2022, 2024)

Clippers receive: Myles Turner, Caris LeVert, Justin Holiday

So, it works (I swear). And boy, does it make for an exciting immediate future for the Clippers. It rids them of a few inescapable-seeming contracts — Bledsoe and Kennard’s — while replacing them with contracts attached to players with a bit more meat on their individual bones. While losing Ivica Zubac leaves the Clippers looking a bit undermanned in the paint, replacing him with Myles Turner brings a defensive presence that is far more stout and consistent, and more than adept in the paint.

Plus, Turner playing without a fellow big of a similar skill set by his side is a prospect more desirable than it sounds. It’s getting harder and harder for bigs to play alongside one another (that is unless they play distinctly different basketball and play in a scheme that can accommodate both of those skill sets). As the sole big in this hypothetical lineup, Turner can shine. Defensively, he’s a stopper and a prolific opponent for any driver; offensively, he’s growing as a shooter and a pick-and-roll partner that I can see Paul George thriving alongside. He’s doing more with his shots now than ever. What’s not to love?

LeVert has been asked to do next to nothing in Indiana, and sure, that’s been a product of his time out with health issues and injuries, but even in his limited time and with a high usage, he’s been scoring 99.4 points per 100 shot attempts. That falls in the 22nd percentile in the league, a lowly number that makes him look far less desirable than his ceiling portends. His lows can be low — nights that show an inability to recognize when he’s cold — but his highs? They’re worth clamoring over. Heck, in his last four games, he’s averaged 21.8 points, four assists, and a shade under two steals per game, with average shooting splits of 49-44-92. If he can hit those highs even 75% of the time, he’s an upgrade for the Clippers.

Los Angeles Clippers v Philadelphia 76ers
I’m tired. Do we have to?
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The obligatory Ben Simmons trade

Pacers receive: Eric Bledsoe, PHI 2024 2nd round pick, LAC 2027 1st round pick (Top-5 protected), LAC 2027 2nd round pick (via DET)

Clippers receive: Ben Simmons, Shake Milton

Sixers receive: Domantas Sabonis, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, three LAC 2nd round picks (2022, 2024, 2026)

I’m just trying to do Ben a favor here. There’s no way Daryl Morey stops being greedy when Sabonis pops up on the radar. No chance. But one can dream (for Simmons’ mental health, and for the Clippers’ big three dreams).