Wizards

Hughes: Should the Wizards call the Pacers about Sabonis?

Wizards

Anytime a credible trade rumor involving a star player enters the NBA atmosphere, it's natural for fans of many teams to fire up the ESPN trade machine and start brainstorming ideas on social media. Nowadays, though, those types of debates seem to take on a different tone for the Washington Wizards.

That's not because they are struggling at the moment and should feel the need to make a deal and it's not because they started out hot and therefore should immediately be dreaming bigger. It's largely because they do seem to have more flexibility for trades with more mid-level contracts and quality veteran depth at just about every position.

So, when the Athletic breaks a story, as they did, about the Pacers on Tuesday, it may be slightly more realistic to piece together the possibilities. The gist of the story is that Indiana, ironically one day after beating the Wizards, is interested in going through a rebuild. They would reportedly listen to offers for guard Caris LeVert and either Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis.

All three are quality players on manageable contracts. LeVert is a bucket-getter, Turner is a shot-blocking machine who can stretch the floor and is only 25, while Sabonis is a two-time All-Star, a walking double-double and is also only 25. 

In unpacking this rumor, at first glance the guy who seems like the most logical fit would be Sabonis and that's coming from someone whose by-line has argued on multiple occasions in the past that the Wizards should trade for Turner. But now that they have Daniel Gafford, also one of the NBA's best shot-blockers, the same need isn't there.

 

LeVert is solid, but has some trouble staying healthy. Sabonis is the All-Star out of the group and the one who doesn't have much redundancy on the Wizards roster. Last season, he averaged 20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists; absolutely terrific offensive numbers.

There are some factors the Wizards would have to consider in targeting him, however. One is that he's a much better offensive player than defensive player. Though they are having trouble on both ends of the floor at the moment, it seems pretty clear they want to build moving forward with a defensive identity in mind.

Secondly, if the Pacers are trying to rebuild as the report suggests, that would generally mean young players and draft picks. The Wizards have emerging young players, but their first-round picks for the foreseeable future are tied up in protections because of the John Wall trade they made in December of 2020.

Now, it should be noted the last time the Pacers traded away a star, Paul George, they opted for young players over picks. That's how Sabonis came to town along with Victor Oladipo. They got back two future All-Stars. Sabonis isn't as good as George, but given it's the same front office making the decision here, the dynamics of that deal should be kept in mind. 

The Wizards also have two players coming back soon who are in the Sabonis' position group; Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant. While there was some speculation late in the offseason about whether team president Tommy Sheppard would make more trades, he decided to let things play out with the team he had already assembled and it paid off. It would make sense if he wants to see how they play with Hachimura and Bryant before tinkering further.

If they did want to try for Sabonis in particular, the reasoning would probably be that he's a star player who is still young and ascending. He also plays a complementary position and style to Bradley Beal. They also seem to be assembling Gonzaga East, so he would help that cause.

But it's also fair to question how much better Sabonis would make them. They already seem capable of earning a middle seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Sabonis would certainly strengthen those chances, but is he the caliber of player who would push them over the top? That is questionable and because of that, they may want to wait until someone better comes along to aim higher with the type of trade package it would require to acquire someone of Sabonis' stature.

Really, one could argue the actual best fit on the Pacers' roster for the Wizards is Malcolm Brogdon. Though he makes more money, he's an excellent defender who can also score 20 points per game and run an offense. He seems to be ideal for what head coach Wes Unseld Jr. is trying to do. It is unclear if Brogdon would be made available.

 

Given all these factors, and Sheppard's recent comments about not wanting to shortchange the roster-building process with a "quick fix," it's probably a safe bet at this point the Wizards won't get seriously involved. But the mere fact they have more flexibility with their contracts makes rumors like this more intriguing than they were not that long ago.