Have the Indiana Pacers seen enough from Victor Oladipo this year?

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

A look back at Victor Oladipo’s journey with the Indiana Pacers, and the questions they may now face if the season is over.

Fans were largely split when the Indiana Pacers landed Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in return for Paul George three summers ago. Since then, they’ve come to know them both as pieces of the Pacers’ future. Specifically, guard Oladipo has been deemed the face of the franchise.

His first year in Indiana was stellar.  His averages of 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.4 steals earned the guard his first All-Star appearance and the Most Improved Player award.

And more importantly, it earned the Pacers a trip to the Eastern Conference playoffs.

In a year expected to be purely developmental, Indiana made way to the postseason, taking LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to a seven-game first-round series. It couldn’t have gone better for the Pacers and Oladipo in year one.

So the two sides picked up where things were left off at the start of the 2018 season. Oladipo was once again named an All-Star after leading Indiana to a 25-11 record when he was active.

Everything was looking up for the Pacers and their All-Star guard until he ruptured his right quad tendon in a January game against the Toronto Raptors. Oladipo went on to miss the rest of the 2018-2019 campaign and didn’t make a return to the court until a year later.

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He made a quiet, unimpressive return to the floor in January of 2020. And since then, his play has been uninspiring, to say the least. This will force some hard questions for himself and the Pacers regarding his future with the team.

In his 13 appearances for Indiana this season, Oladipo averaged: 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3 assists on a career-low 39/30/78 shooting split. The Pacers’ star guard lacked the athleticism and explosiveness this year that previously fueled his rise to stardom.

And just as things were looking up, and Oladipo started shaking off the rust, the 2019-2020 campaign was suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak. His last performance of the season may very well be his best, a 27-point outing against the Boston Celtics.

But with that to go off of, in conjunction with the other 12 games he suited up for, how confident should the Indiana Pacers be in Oladipo headed into next season? The 27-year old guard is on track to join what will be a star-studded free agent class in the offseason of 2021.

So naturally, the upcoming offseason would be the one designated for extension talks.

As Ian Begley of SNY reported on Friday, executives across the league will be watching the situation closely. Indiana and Oladipo began discussing an extension earlier in the year, but didn’t make it far as he was still injured and on the mend at that point.

Begley reports that a four-year deal for $80-million was once discussed for the star guard:

"“Per SNY sources, at one point in the extension talk between the club and Oladipo, the idea of a four-year extension for around $80 million was broached. Discussions about an extension didn’t progress much from there, sources said.”"

Oladipo may have gambled on himself earlier than is appropriate. If the season is truly over, he would gladly now accept that offer if it’s still on the table with the Pacers.

Indiana now has some thinking to do. Did Oladipo show enough in his 13 games to inspire the confidence that he will return to form? If not, how do they approach his last year under contract?

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There are teams who would very well take on Oladipo’s last year under contract in exchange for few, though not many, assets. The Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets have been the largest rumored destination for the guard’s approaching free agency.

So if the Pacers are going to deal Oladipo, they should start there.

Because playing out the final season of his contract without inking an extension may prove beneficial to their prized guard, but only detrimental to the Pacers’ progress as a franchise.

Just three years ago, Indiana took a last-minute offer for Paul George. It’s the same deal that brought them Oladipo. But no one’s doubting they could have received a more lucrative return if they didn’t show so much faith in George’s commitment to the club.

It was only after the 2016-2017 season that the Pacers realized George would truly be walking. They dealt him to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the following summer. Will Indiana make the same mistake with Victor Oladipo, albeit under different circumstances?

That is the question this Pacers front office has to now ask themselves. Because if they let Oladipo play out his final season under contract without a guaranteed future in Indiana, he may then, in turn, walk away in free agency for a different franchise and a bigger payday.

While the NBA as a whole deals with the new realities born in the wake of the season’s suspension and potential end, the largest question for the Indiana Pacers will be how they address Victor Oladipo and his future with the team. Because in reality, it’s less certain than it seems.

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