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Pacers 'open for business' on trade market?

Paul George (13) and Myles Turner are franchise cornerstones. (Getty Images)

The Pacers may well be open for business, but don’t expect a fire sale.

With the NBA trade deadline eight days away (Feb. 23 at 3 p.m.), the rumor mill is churning and while there isn’t much in the way of specifics, there have been some bombshells of generality.

Following up last week’s nugget from Adrian Wojnarowski that the Celtics are interested in pursuing an elite wing player and are targeting Paul George and Chicago’s Jimmy Butler came this from Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype earlier today:

The team’s inability to extend a seven-game winning streak once the schedule toughened up has to not only be frustrating to team president Larry Bird, but revealing. He changed coaches and dramatically altered the roster this year in hopes of climbing the bracket in the East, but with four straight losses heading into a back-to-back set against the Cavs and Wizards heading into the All-Star break, it’s pretty clear the Pacers as presently constructed have some glaring holes.

Namely, rebounding and defense, the areas where the team’s lack of physical toughness is manifest.

“To win in this league, you’re going to have to defend and you’re going to have to be tough,” said Nate McMillan. “Just think about the teams we play here lately. You go out there with the mindset you’re going to try and outscore them and not defending and winning the scrapping game against these better teams, it’s just not going to happen. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get nasty. Offensively, you’ve got to get that ball, value that ball. And when you get that ball it’s a value on execution and shot selection and all of that. I mean, that’s what the NBA is about. That’s what we are about and what you need to be about in this league if you’re trying to get to the playoffs and win in the playoffs. You’ve just got to have that.”

The Pacers are dead last in the league in rebound percentage (.473), and the defensive promise they showed during the win streak has evaporated in the past past week as old habits have returned.

In assembling a longer, leaner, more athletic roster, Bird had hoped the team could change its defensive personality, get away from the old smashmouth approach of the Frank Vogel years and into a more active mode. But with the team still struggling to establish a defensive identity, and unable to consistently finish stops with defensive rebounds, there has been little fuel for an offense that needs to be more up-tempo.

Two positions have been the most problematic: power forward and shooting guard.

At power forward, Thaddeus Young ranks 33rd among NBA forwards with a 6.1 rebounding average, and has not been an effective complement to young center Myles Turner. Beyond Young, the options are Lavoy Allen and Kevin Seraphin, and neither has brought what the Pacers need -- defensive energy and aggressive rebounding.

The shooting guard job has been something of a revolving door, with Monta Ellis losing the job go Glenn Robinson III, who subsequently lost it to C.J. Miles. Ellis has savvy, but is in decline. Robinson is an adequate defender but passive offensively. Miles is a streaky 3-point shooter but brings little else. Rodney Stuckey prefers coming off the bench, and has battled health issues throughout the season.

Despite Kennedy’s assertion George is the only player on the roster the Pacers would not consider trading, there is little chance Bird would consider a deal involving Turner -- a player he recently said could be the best in franchise history. Young big men require more patience than any other type of player in the league, and the idea is to find a complement to Turner, not a replacement.

Jeff Teague likewise is a prized commodity at point guard. Despite the inconsistencies that have marked his first season in Indiana, and the fact he becomes a free agent in July, he is much more part of the solution than the problem.

As for everybody else? Teams looking for one more veteran to bolster a playoff run could be attracted to Ellis, Stuckey or Al Jefferson. Young would also be viable bait.

While there are a handful of power forwards who could help -- Bismack Biyombo (Orlando), Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia) and Kenneth Faried (Denver) -- come to mind, the market at shooting guard is thin.

The underlying dynamic in play is this: does Bird think the Pacers can be tweaked into a contender this year? Or is he willing to take a more long-term approach and stockpile draft picks or young veterans?

We won’t have to wait long to find out.
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