NBA Trade Rumors: Indiana’s backcourt is available

Things change quickly in the NBA. At the beginning of last season, T.J. Ford and Brandon Rush made up the Indiana Pacers’ starting backcourt on Opening Night. Today, both Ford and Rush are falling out of Indy’s rotation, and very well could be available for whoever wants them as the February trade deadline approaches.

Ford, the 8th-year pro who was once upon a time was knocking on the door as maybe a top-10 point guard in the NBA, has been in and out of coach Jim O’Brien‘s doghouse throughout his tenure with the Pacers. In the last few days Ford (5.8 ppg, 3.6 apg) has been removed from his second-string PG spot again, this time in favor of A.J. Price — although O’Brien said the move was less about Ford’s play and more about developing Price as well as rookie Lance Stephenson.

Rush, in his third season, was once a key building block for Indiana after they used a Lottery pick on him in 2008. This season he’s averaging a career-high 11.1 points in just under 30 minutes a night, but rookie Paul George, the 10th pick in last summer’s draft, has infringed on Rush’s spot as a part-time starter/sixth man at two-guard.

O’Brien told the Indianapolis Star that Rush’s play has been “sporadic” and that the Kansas product “drifts in and out.” Or as beat writer Mike Wells puts it: “One game, he looks like the wing who could play alongside Danny Granger for years. In another, he shows why the Pacers were leery to pick up his option for next season.”

With the trade deadline looming, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ford and Rush gone from Indiana.

Ford has played well this season in his limited role — at one point he was getting minutes during crunch time over starter Darren Collison — and O’Brien called him the Pacers’ best defensive point guard. But his most attractive asset is an $8.5 million expiring contract.

“Pretty much, I understand that the time is up here,” Ford told the Star. “I can just sit here. I was in the same situation last year. I’ll continue to cheer guys on because I want to see A.J. and Lance do well. They’re part of the future. Under the circumstances, I’ll still come to work every day and be professional about it.”

Rush is on the books for $2.9 million next season, after which he can be a free agent. He is less likely to be traded than Ford, and it’s not like Indiana has given up on him — he’s just going to be playing a smaller role now that George is emerging.

The Pacers are already in the beginning of a transitional phase. Granger’s status as the unquestioned franchise centerpiece is a bit more shaky now that Roy Hibbert is developing into a potential All-Star center, a shift which could change the team’s style of play down the road. The Pacers have six expiring contracts on their roster right now — including Mike Dunleavy Jr., Jeff Foster and Josh McRoberts — and there are reports that O’Brien himself is on the hot seat. Moving forward, it seems the only pieces set in stone are Hibbert, Collison and Granger. Everything else is up in the air.

Would you want Ford and/or Rush on your team?