Rumors: Thoughts on the Domantas Sabonis trade talk

The Indiana Pacers have until Monday to sign Domantas Sabonis to an extension, but the two parties appear unlikely to agree to terms before that deadline according to multiple media reports.

The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported that they are far apart to the point that the Pacers “have engaged in active trade talks with several teams this week.” While Amick notes that there is no lack of interest in the young center, his sources say that the Pacers asking price remains too high.

The IndyStar’s J. Michael confirmed that an extension is not imminent at the moment and said he “wouldn’t be surprised by anything as the deadline nears.”

Based on all the reporting, here is some speculation on what’s going on. I repeat this is just speculation and is only my best guess for the entire situation:

When the Pacers realized that they were probably not going to reach an agreement with Sabonis, they started to check what the trade market would be for him.

This doesn’t mean that they are necessarily looking to trade him right now (unless they got a huge offer they couldn’t pass up which would line up with their rumored “high” asking price) but perhaps it is more of a situation where the Pacers are just seeing what they could possibly get in a deal and what teams would be interested down the line if Kevin Pritchard and company decided to go that direction in the future. In other words, it’s just due diligence.

Or it could just be that the Pacers are listening to the calls that come in for Sabonis while not really actively seeking offers and Sabonis’s agent decided to leak that to the press to try and get the team to up their extension offer.

The Pacers want to see what Turner and Sabonis can do together. It would be a little odd for them to abandon the idea before it’s ever given a real chance. Even waiting until the trade deadline feels a little early to give up on it without a fully healthy Victor Oladipo. For the Pacers to be seriously looking for a trade, they would have to have very little confidence that they were going to be able to re-sign him or match an offer in restricted free agency.

Indiana probably thinks that a good deal would be very similar to the one that Myles Turner signed last season (4 years, $72 million plus incentives). Sabonis’s camp probably feels that he can get more than that in the open market especially with next year’s free agent class being low on quality players.

Both are very reasonable stances. It’s hard for the Pacers to commit more money to Sabonis than Turner when the duo had such terrible results in the postseason last year with Sabonis really struggling to make the same kind of impact he did in the regular season. And with a larger role coming as a starter, Sabonis is likely to put up big numbers over the course of this year that could lead to a big payday from someone else if not Indiana.

You never know how the market will go for a RFA but there is risk involved for both parties. If other teams feel like the Pacers will match anything Sabonis gets offered, other teams may not bother with making him an offer at all. And if Sabonis does get a huge offer sheet, the Pacers have to decide between potentially overpaying him or losing him for nothing.

It doesn’t seem probable that he’ll be traded before the season starts. If a trade was going to happen, we’d be more likely to be randomly hit with the news of a deal with no warning. We wouldn’t have got this Amick report first.

Sabonis’s contract also limits the options that are available in a trade. His low salary makes it tough to find a trade partner. Someone in a similar situation on a rookie contract that will soon need to be extended is the most likely scenario (Jaylen Brown or Buddy Hield come to mind). Otherwise, other players have to be included in the deal and with so many new players currently on the roster many of them can’t be traded until early in the regular season. If they are able to re-sign him now or next summer, it could be easier to pull the plug if necessary by trading him or Turner the next season when they both have larger salaries.

Hopefully, both players have great seasons and the duo shows enough promise that the Pacers are confident in keeping both of them at whatever the cost. If not, making a trade avoids them possibly losing one of their best young players for nothing next summer.

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