The Indiana Pacers are without question one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference after the offseason moves that they made. Larry Bird has completely transformed the Pacers’ team that went to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals and might very well have made them better.
Paul George is in the prime of his career and has broken onto the scene as a top-10 player in the NBA. He could even be top-five, depending on how the 2016-17 season goes. Now that he has top-notch talent around him, the sky is the limit for the Pacers.
Jeff Teague was acquired by Indiana in a three-team deal that sent George Hill to the Utah Jazz, as ESPN reported.
Looking ahead to next offseason, the Pacers will have even more money to make another move. One player in particular that would make a lot of sense for them is Gordon Hayward. He has a player option on his deal and would fit perfectly alongside George.
Hayward is an Indiana native who played his college basketball career at Butler. He would be welcomed back to Indiana with open arms. Bird is always interested in smart players like Hayward, and they have a need at the shooting guard position that Hayward could fill.
Last season with the Jazz, Hayward ended up averaging 19.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. He shot 43.3 percent from the field overall and knocked down 34.9 percent from the three-point arc.
Indiana would be very wise to target Hayward next offseason as their top priority.
There are plenty of players available that could be good fits for the Pacers next offseason. While there are others that would make sense for Indiana, Hayward is the best fit that they could possibly find.
Bird and the Pacers also went out and acquired Thaddeus Young from the Brooklyn Nets, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports originally reported. They also signed Al Jefferson in free agency to a three-year, $30 million deal. Indiana has put together a team that can seriously compete in the Eastern Conference.
Adding a scoring talent like Hayward would take a lot of pressure off of George. Teague will do wonders for the Pacers’ offense, but Hayward’s ability to get to the rim as well as shoot the basketball makes him the perfect second scorer that Indiana has needed to pair with George. Very few opposing defenses would have the defenders to stop both of the Pacers’ wings.
Hayward may not be interested in leaving the Jazz, although it is reasonable to think that he wants to compete for a championship. Utah is headed in the right direction, but they don’t have a superstar like the Pacers do.
It will be interesting to see what ends up happening next offseason. There are plenty of big names available on the open market and the cap is expected to rise once again. Hayward is going to get a major payday and will have a lot of teams pursuing him when free agency opens up.
If the Pacers want to bring Hayward on board, it will take an aggressive offer immediately after free agency opens up. He would definitely have an interest in returning home to Indiana, which gives the Pacers a bit of an advantage over other would-be suitors.
Nate McMillan is taking over the head coaching duties in Indiana and Hayward would fit very well into his system. Indiana is going to run an up-tempo style of offense, but McMillan is known for his ability to slow down in the half-court and work the ball for open shots. Hayward can get out and run, but his ability to move without the ball would be a major plus in Indiana.
Expect to see the Pacers have a serious interest in Hayward next offseason, and don’t be shocked if the interest is mutual.
Do you think the Indiana Pacers should pursue Gordon Hayward next offseason? Would he make them the team to beat in the Eastern Conference even ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below!
[Photo by AP Photo/George Frey]