By SAM SPIEGELMAN
Barring a blockbuster trade that will bring another superstar to Indiana, the Pacers will be hard-pressed to find a player - via free agency or trade - that will ease the loss of Paul George in 2014-15.
Without the likes of George - who averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists last season en route to earning an All-Star bid, All-Defensive First Team, and All-NBA Third Team honors - it is inconceivable to even consider Indiana a playoff team ... even in the weaker Eastern Conference.
The Pacers are reportedly flirting with the idea of bringing in former Suns and Mavericks small forward Shawn Marion, according to RealGM.com. Marion by far is the best of what's available on the current free-agent market.
Marion averaged 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season in Dallas, and even at age 36 is one of the better defenders at the position.
The Pacers might have to contend with the likes of LeBron James and the Cavaliers, who are also showing interest in Marion, ESPN.com reported. And when you're deciding between playing with the NBA championship favorites and a rapidly plummeting Pacers team, the choice is probably as easy as you would think.
Signing Marion would at least make the Pacers a more competitive team, but he alone can't make up for the loss of George when it comes to the playoff race. Remember, there's the production of Lance Stephenson to team needs to compensate for as well.
Beyond Marion, the names start to get more and more unfamiliar. There's Francisco Garcia, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Earl Clark and Jordan Hamilton.
Garcia hasn't garnered much interest since declining his player option with the Rockets, which is immediately a red flag. Douglas-Roberts added some offensive pop for Charlotte during their playoff stretch, but he's not the defensively gifted player that Pacers coach Frank Vogel prefers. Clark is a good defender, but doesn't offer much on the offensive side of the court. As for Hamilton, it's all O and zero D, and that probably doesn't bode well for his chances of landing in Indy.
Even with the best-case scenario - luring Marion to town - the Pacers are not a playoff team. At best, they're competing for the eighth seed in the East. The rest of the role players mentioned as potential targets - none of them can deliver what even Marion can. They're either all offense, all defense or too little of both.
The Pacers need to focus their attention on 2015-16. If there was ever a time to tank, it's now. With George, a 24-year-old budding star, there will always be a chance to compete. Assembling a roster for when he returns is the ultimate move the Pacers should make.
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