Victor Oladipo reportedly wants out of Indiana. I’ll wait to believe it until I hear it first-hand from either Oladipo or Pacers president Kevin Pritchard, but in the event he is leaning toward demanding a ticket elsewhere, there are some things that need to be understood by both the Pacers and their feathery guard.
Athletes can brand themselves just fine in Indianapolis. It’s argued an athlete benefits financially from playing in a large market, but making his bones in Indy sure didn’t hurt Peyton Manning. Let me ask you this, who plays for the New York Knicks? Name two players on their roster. I’ll wait. How many Bulls players are making serious bank off the court? Sure, the Lakers have LeBron, but he would be a huge draw if he played in the inner part of outer Mongolia. Oladipo was featured on The Masked Singer while playing in Indy, and Manning earned more than any other NFL player in 2019.
With or without Oladipo, the Pacers win. Oladipo started last season immersed in rehab for his surgically repaired quad tendon, but the Pacers rolled regardless. Prior to Oladipo’s return, the Pacers put together a very respectable 30-17 (.638) record. After Oladipo’s return, the Pacers were 15-11 (.577).
If winning is important, Oladipo can win in Indianapolis – as has! Over the course of seven seasons in the NBA, Oladipo’s overall record is 271-294. After Oladipo was traded to the Pacers, they are 141-96 despite Oladipo playing only 57% of the games. In his other four seasons, Oladipo is 130-198. Oladipo will never be the best player on a championship level team, but not only can he win with the Pacers – he has won with the Pacers.
Oladipo is damaged goods. He might see himself as the all-star who blossomed after being shipped to Indiana, but Oladipo is still trying to regain his burst 20 months after tearing his quad tendon in a game against the Toronto Raptors. He may be able to return to form this season – or maybe he will always be the shell of himself that we saw as the Pacers were swept by the Heat in the first round of the playoffs. He couldn’t stay in front of 34-year-old Goran Dragic and failed to get the corner on any of the Heat defenders.
It’s likely the 29 general managers with whom Pritchard might craft a deal saw the same thing we did, and the value they might offer is likely to be far beneath what he would have commanded pre-injury. So maybe Oladipo should Fred lightly as he ponders his next move. An extension with the Pacers might be the best deal Oladipo can get.
People in Indiana love Oladipo. Despite reported indifference toward them, Oladipo is beloved in Indiana. A significant portion of that adulation was earned during his three years as a student-athlete at Indiana. That home state goodwill does not exist elsewhere. To paraphrase a well-known adage about basketball and Indiana – In 49 states, Victor Oladipo is just a guy, but this is Indiana. If Oladipo demands an exit, he’ll be “just a guy” in all 50 states.
Paul George is a cautionary tale for Oladipo, but might be instructive for the Pacers. In June of 2017, George informed the Pacers of his desire to leave the franchise the following summer as a free agent. The Pacers accommodated George’s desire to play elsewhere with a trade to Oklahoma City that brought Oladipo and Domas Sabonis to Indiana. Since then, George has engineered another deal – this one to the Clippers. In the three seasons since demanding a trade, George’s Thunder and Clippers have compiled a 146-90 record while the Pacers have been 141-96. He has added just one playoff series win to the five he enjoyed with the Pacers. George’s brand has backslid from team-first good guy into one of a me-first choke-artist. Oladipo needs to be careful whose example he follows, and the Pacers will be wise to recall that like a husband with a crazy wife – good can come from being jilted.
The marriage between the Pacers and Oladipo appears to have hit a rocky patch. I hope they can reconcile and negotiate an extension that might keep Victor in Indianapolis into the autumn of his career. He is a good guy and an all-star when at 100%, but loyalty is always to the hometown team. If Oladipo wants out, Pritchard needs to turn this situation into a redux of the George deal that brought Oladipo and Sabonis here.
If Prichard gets all he can, fans will move on quickly from yet another diva who believes he has outgrown Indiana.
If reports of Vic’s wanderlust are accurate.