Through the first quarter of the 2021-22 NBA season, the Warriors and Indiana Pacers find themselves on opposite ends of the standings.
The Warriors are back to being basketball's best team, while the Pacers, despite having All-Star talent, enter Tuesday as the No. 13 seed in the Eastern Conference. As Golden State looks to win Steph Curry and Co. their fourth championship, it appears that might as well be a foreign word to the Pacers.
The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Tuesday, citing sources, that the Pacers are ready to begin a rebuild and are expected to listen intently on trade possibilities for their top players.
Could these two teams be the perfect trade partners? The Pacers just might have exactly what the Warriors are looking for, and vice versa. Charania mentioned guard Caris LeVert and big men Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner as players the Pacers could be looking to move.
The Warriors have to at least explore the possibility of acquiring either Sabonis or Turner.
Sabonis is in his sixth season as a pro and Turner is in his seventh. Both players are 25 years old, and both bring different skills to the table. So far, Sabonis has put up bigger numbers than Turner and likely always will when it comes to scoring. He's a two-time All-Star and Turner is yet to reach that level.
Through 26 games this season, Sabonis is averaging 17.8 points, which is lower than his 20.3 points last season and 18.5 points the season before. His 12 rebounds per game are exactly what he averaged as an All-Star last season, and though his 3-point shooting is significantly down this season, his overall field goal percentage has improved and his 60.3 effective field goal percentage is a career-best.
The question with Sabonis always has been his defense. However, his 106 defensive rating is tied for the second-best of his career and is much better than his 110 last season. He'll never be an All-Defensive player, but that's also the beauty of having Draymond Green anchoring your defense.
Green has been lights-out on defense this season, stopping some of the game's best scorers. He has an elite 97 defensive rating and has to be the Defensive Player of the Year favorite early on. Adding Sabonis would give the Warriors a 6-foot-11 scoring option who can grab rebounds, shoot from the outside when needed to and should be helped by Green and others on the defensive end.
Turner always has felt like perhaps the ideal trade fit for the Warriors, for everything he does differently than Sabonis. He isn't an All-Star and only averages 12.6 points per game. But do the Warriors really need a 20-point scorer at center? The answer should probably be pretty obvious.
Golden State and Indiana reportedly spoke on a possible Turner trade ahead of the 2021 draft before the Pacers kept their center and the Warriors selected Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody with their two lottery picks. This season, Turner again is showing exactly why the Warriors should at least be interested in adding the 6-foot-11 big man.
Turner has twice led the NBA in blocks per game and is doing the same this season, with 2.8 blocks per game. He also is averaging a career-high 7.5 rebounds per game and his 103 defensive rating is the second-best of his career. The big man also is shooting a career-high 39.5 percent from 3-point range, while averaging a career-high 4.6 3-pointers per game.
If the Pacers really are in rebuild mode, any trade likely would start with 20-year-old center James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft, and Kuminga and Moody certainly will have their names thrown around. At this point, Kuminga might be the most desirable of the three to the Warriors for what he could potentially bring to them. The 19-year-old has the size, power and upside as a versatile wing who fits both the Warriors and the modern NBA.
Wiseman has shown flashes when healthy, and at the same time is constantly being questioned for how he fits this team and this system. With Christmas just two and a half weeks away, it also is clear that Klay Thompson will return to Golden State before Wiseman. The 7-footer underwent meniscus surgery nearly eight months ago and still hasn't been cleared for full-contact 5-on-5 work. Even when he does return, he'll be given unrealistic expectations from the outside and likely won't play closing minutes with Curry, Thompson and Green.
Sabonis is signed through the 2023-24 season. Turner is under contract through next season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Sabonis' box-score stats look better than Turner's, yet he might not be the better fit. Being in a different system, playing with Curry and having Green as a safety valve on defense does of course change his perceived ability to work with the Warriors.
Joe Lacob has said in the past he doesn't intend to trade the Warriors' young assets like Wiseman, Kuminga or Moody. He also has made it clear how important winning right now with Curry, Thompson and Green is. There's only so long he can juggle both ways of thinking.
As the Warriors look down at the rest of the NBA with a 20-4 record, Lacob and the rest of the front office will have to contemplate what can make this group champions once again. Would making a move hurt chemistry? How much could it affect their future? Those are only two questions they have to be asking themselves. Turner doesn't have the upside that Wiseman does, and they have to wonder how the two players will look a handful of years down the line.
In the now, however, a player like him gives the Warriors a better chance to win at least one more ring with their original Big Three at the peak of their powers here in the Bay Area. That is the point of all of this, right?