Timing has never seemed to be on Victor Oladipo’s side during his NBA career, and heading into an expiring contract after one of the worst seasons of his life, the same is true now. Oladipo is angling for his next big contract, whether that be in Indiana or elsewhere, but even in an offseason where the two-time All-Star may have one of the biggest names on the trade market, timing probably isn’t going to work in Oladipo’s favor.
Over the course of the four-year, $84 million deal that Oladipo originally signed with Orlando, he has gone from a prospect with upside, to a potential superstar, to an injury catastrophe, to a rehab project. Now facing free agency next offseason and a Pacers team that has failed to get over the hump and into the conference finals, Oladipo finds himself in a rough spot.
Even with ruptured quadriceps tendon, Oladipo last season turned down a four-year, $80 million extension from Indiana last summer, according to Ian Begley of SNY. Getting back onto the court just before the NBA hiatus was remarkable, and playing in the Bubble was again a promising sign for his recovery, but Oladipo was a shell of himself. He shot just 39.4 percent from the field in 19 total games this season and hardly looked like the slashing killer that almost beat LeBron James in a playoff series in 2018.
In the playoffs, when the Pacers really needed him to step up as a scorer against Miami’s high-powered attack, Oladipo couldn’t create separation and explode to the rim like he could before the injury. After shooting nearly six free throws per game in the postseason two years ago, Oladipo got to the line just four times a game this year.
In large part, when he looked to score, he settled for tough pull-up jumpers. When he did go to the rim, he did so without the ability to finish with strength and athleticism that he is known for. The result was a player who was pretty easy to guard — an ordinary athlete in a star’s body on a team that asked him to do too much.
Jae Crowder had a remarkable playoff run defensively and is a bigger, stronger player you might expect Oladipo to struggle with. But the type of player who says no to $80 million is not the same type of player who gets stifled at the rim by Crowder.
It wasn’t just a failure to get to the basket that hurt Oladipo. The coordination and fluidity that made him not only a great scorer but a strong play-maker for others was gone in the Bubble. His assist rate shrunk while his turnover rate increased, and he had a lot of ugly turnovers. More troubling was that many were not just bad passes as he regained chemistry with teammates, but that he was tripping over himself, traveling, and generally looking like he didn’t have a plan. Either that, or the way he used to play just wasn’t possible anymore. The struggle in projecting out what his value is stems from the fact that we cannot know the answer.
After his postseason struggles, Oladipo probably isn’t worth that $80 million contract from Indiana right now. With a new head coach in Nate Bjorkgren and a pricy, developing core that held up just fine without Oladipo last season, the Pacers would struggle to justify forcing an extension with their injured star.
That may mean Oladipo seeks out a trade, and plugged-in NBA reporters seem to believe teams are interested in him. Yet a smallish wing whose value was built around athleticism coming off a ruptured quad and a 39.4 percent shooting season is nobody’s idea of a highly valuable trade chip. Even if a team inquired, Oladipo’s recent play means Indiana has little to no leverage. If they can’t fetch much, they may be wise to simply play it out in 2021 and revisit extension and trade talks next offseason.
Should a trade take place this fall, the outline of a team which might target Oladipo probably goes something like this: They are trying to win in 2021, have enough spending power to pay him the sizable $21 million he’s owed this year, and can take a bet on the potential shot creation and perimeter defense (which held up well coming off injury) Oladipo provides. They probably are also in a smaller market where it would be difficult to woo Oladipo in free agency or are a title contender in a cash bind that leaves Oladipo as the best option available.
Who checks all those boxes? In the first group there’s Charlotte, Atlanta, Minnesota, or maybe an Orlando reunion. Among the contenders, maybe Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, or the Lakers take a shot. But how much should a team really be willing to give up if Oladipo remains nothing more than a bench guard for the rest of his career?
Oladipo could also come back in 2021 closer to his pre-injury form, but he will turn 29 next season and his game has revolved around athleticism since he was in college. A best-case scenario if the effects of the injury linger could be that he reorients his offensive game like Derrick Rose, but the slightly older Rose has had a hard time getting any sort of long-term commitment from a good team in recent years even as he’s turned in back-to-back strong seasons. Nobody’s giving up a first-round draft pick or a blue chip prospect in a trade with the Pacers if what they’re getting back is merely a younger Rose.
Oladipo wants a payday, and that’s understandable, both with his health in question and based off the fact that he’s an All-Star at his best. A worse team would likely be more willing to pay him, but it’s hard to imagine Oladipo making good on being, say, the Hornets’ star acquisition. As with many players in Oladipo’s position, it will be a question of how long he holds out before deciding to potentially sacrifice a bit of money for a role and situation that suits him best.
The Pacers couldn’t bring it out of him this season, but Oladipo can be a strong perimeter defender, solid spot-up shooter, and secondary play-maker in the right context. Maybe he rediscovers his superstar form. As things stand today, however, Oladipo may have to wait — and accept less money — to settle in comfortably somewhere new.