As we careen toward the NBA’s annual trade deadline next month, two teams that have been garnering buzz on the rumor mill have been the Pacers, with multiple sellable assets (star centers Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, plus guard Caris LeVert among them) on hand, and the Celtics, who remain a mystery but figure to do something, anything, when the deadline hits. The two teams, of course, play each other on the second end of a home-and-home on Wednesday.
The natural question, then, is whether there are pieces that the Pacers and Celtics could swap in the coming weeks—no doubt, there has been interest in trades between the two teams before.
And that is a concern. The Celtics and Pacers have had a deep history of near-transactions with each other, including an offer for Indiana’s Paul George back in 2017 that the Pacers turned down. More recently, it was the Gordon Hayward talks in the winter of 2020 which broke down before Hayward ultimately decided to take a bigger contract in Charlotte. The Celtics had a chance to bring in Turner at that time, but wanted a bigger return.
That breakdown left the franchises pointing the finger at each other.
Though the main actor in those talks—Celtics team president Danny Ainge—has moved on, replaced by Brad Stevens, there are a lot of folks on both sides still in place. Could the lingering animosity be a hindrance to a potential Pacers-Celtics deal?
Not so, according to longtime Celtics insider and new Heavy.com NBA columnist Steve Bulpett.
“At this period in time, if the team feels like it can do something that is going to benefit it, they’ll do it,” Bulpett said. “Now, especially, we’ve got different people sitting in the chairs with Brad Stevens here. I don’t think that’d be a hindrance at all.”
Big Money Was Always Going to Lure Hayward to Charlotte
In fact, Bulpett pointed out, the Celtics and Pacers never really had that much animosity over the Hayward talks, certainly not as much as other outlets might have suggested. That’s because the Pacers and Celtics were working on a sign-and-trade under the framework of a $100 million deal for Hayward. But the Hornets came in the following day and offered $120 million for four years, and Hayward leapt at the opportunity to take that.
Even if the Celtics and Pacers had agreed to a Hayward trade, he was still a free agent who would have to OK the deal. And as long as Charlotte was prepared to pay that much for Hayward, the Celtics and Pacers talks likely were moot.
“If Gordon Hayward had wanted to go to Indiana, that deal would have gotten done,” Bulpett said. “The money that he got from Charlotte, he wasn’t going to pass that up. If he had said, ‘Look, Indiana is where I want to be, and that’s where I am going to go,’ they would have had to work something out.”
Pacers Once Tried to Swap for Larry Bird
If you want to go deep into the way-back machine, Bulpett recalled breaking a story in the latter years of Larry Bird’s career in Boston—1988, in fact—when the Pacers made a push to trade for Bird, an Indiana legend. The deal would have given the Celtics second-year star forward Chuck Person and the No. 2 pick in that year’s draft (the Pacers took Rik Smits) as part of a package for Bird.
“The Pacers called and offered the kitchen sink for Larry Bird,” Bulpett said. “This is late in the Larry Bird, in his NBA time, and I remember talking at length about it with Donnie Walsh, the head of operations there, at the time. Basically, they weren’t just trying to get Larry Bird for his talent but, Indiana is a big college basketball area. It’s a big high-school basketball area. The NBA, outside of a couple of eras there, had not caught on the way they really wanted to or hoped it would.”
The Celtics resisted the urge to deal Bird, a move that, in basketball terms, was unwise. Bird suffered bone spurs in both ankles the following year and missed all but six games. Lingering back problems kept him from ever returning to top form thereafter, and he retired in 1992.
Smits and Person would have done well to keep the Celtics afloat during the 1990s. But the franchise was, at least, spared the indignity of seeing Bird suit up in another uniform.