The Los Angeles Lakers begin a four-game road trip on Monday, with their first stop at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for a matchup with the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers enter the day as the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. They don’t hold a tiebreaker with the Washington Wizards, and both teams are a mere half-game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for third.
Indiana’s success could not have been expected prior to the season, especially in the wake of trading disgruntled superstar Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The market for George was unusually limited, given his expiring contract at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season and desire to eventually play for his hometown Lakers.
That led to the Pacers receiving just two players in return and no draft picks. They acquired Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, leaving many pundits underwhelmed with the haul.
So far, the trade has unexpectedly benefitted both sides, which led to Lakers head coach Luke Walton admitting he was wrong for initially believing the deal was heavily slanted against the Pacers, via the Lakers’ Twitter account:
“Originally I thought it was kind of a lopsided trade, but I’m man enough to admit that I was wrong. Indiana, I think they’re probably the surprise team of the season so far. They’re playing unbelievable. Both of those players they got in the trade, they’re playing some really, really good basketball. Obviously a good trade for both teams.”
Both Oladipo and Sabonis are in the midst of breakout campaigns, with the former earning All-Star honors for the first time in his career.
Oladipo has posted career-highs in nearly every statistical category, including points per game (23.4) and rebounds (5.3) while leading the league with 2.3 steals in 34.1 minutes on the floor.
Sabonis, who was essentially a throw-in from Oklahoma City to complete the trade, is averaging totals of 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per contest, though is currently sidelined by an ankle.
Beyond the Pacers benefitting from Oladipo’s and Sabonis’ production on the court, both players are under contract going forward. Oladipo is controlled through the 2020-21 season, while Sabonis won’t reach free agency until 2020.
Had the Pacers held on to George, they would have likely watched him depart without receiving any assets in return. Instead, they have two young players to build around for the foreseeable future.