The Pacers acquired Caris LeVert and discovered a small mass on his kidney that will keep him out
To complete the deal, the Pacers received an additional second-round pick and $2.6 million in cash.
Caris LeVert is back in the blue and gold, officially a member of the Indiana Pacers again as of Saturday afternoon. A four-team deal was completed by 4:00 p.m. ET, just as the team finished practicing in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles.
The deal was finalized three and half days after an agreement was initially reached in principle.
Why the delay?
The Pacers’ medical staff discovered what the team described as “a small mass on his left kidney” while undergoing a routine physical. When a player is added to the team, whether it be via trade or free-agent signing, he must go through a series of tests. It includes body scans, blood work, an ECG and much more. Each player is also looked at after each season for more data points and to compare.
This small mass clearly stood out to doctors who reviewed his MRI. LeVert has had several previous injuries so they were already on high alert.
“And so we huddled — I'm probably not exaggerating with this — probably 50 times with our doctors,” team president Kevin Pritchard detailed Saturday night on a Zoom call with reporters. “And there's risk in everything. Especially in this business, there's all kinds of risks. But we got comfortable with it."
Pritchard did not want to single out the doctor who recognized this abnormality at this time, but promises to do so later. Yes, that doctor did his job. But most physicals are routine. There’s a great story there…
Who is Caris?
He turned 26 years old in August. He’s a 6-foot-6 guard who previously played for the Brooklyn Nets. Technically, he was first a member of the Pacers, drafted 20th over all in 2016. But five hours before the draft, the team agreed to trade that pick to the Nets for veteran forward Thad Young. It worked out great for both teams then, and now LeVert is back in the midwest.
He was born in Columbus, Ohio and played four years at the University of Michigan where Butler coach LaVall Jordan was an assistant coach. Now in Year 5 in the NBA, he's a versatile player not yet in his prime. He's played several different roles for the Nets and was averaging 18.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.
“I’m very familiar with him,” Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren said after practice. “Last year, we (Raptors) played against him in the first round of the playoffs where he was very hard to handle. A very good player and very dynamic. I’ve watched a lot of (film) on him, coached against him and now looking forward to having him on our Indiana Pacer team.”
Will he play again?
While nobody knows for sure, it seems likely. He played 12 games for Brooklyn with the small mass presumably already present. LeVert can expect for there to be treatment, a recovery period and then he will be back on the court.
“I'm super confident that we're going to have him on the court,” Pritchard said, speaking from his kitchen table. He is not on the West Coast with the team. “Everybody, I know, will want a timeline. I don't want to do that.”
The Pacers’ medical staff will not rush him back. They want for him to get the treatment he needs before focusing on basketball.
“As soon as we found this out, all eyes were trying to help Caris and making sure that we we plan this out, but we got very comfortable with it,” Pritchard continued. “And we believe that there's an opportunity — not just in the short term, but also in the medium term and in the long term — to be a really good basketball team.”
What are the terms of the deal?
The four teams involved: Pacers, Nets, Rockets and Cavaliers.
The headline is James Harden going to the Nets, but the former face of the Pacers is also involved. They are moving on from Victor Oladipo after a little more than three seasons.
With a split inevitable and an in-season trade likely due to Oladipo being in a contract, the Pacers struck while they could — even though it was earlier than anyone anticipated. He is seeking a max contract, so the Pacers front office knew they had to move him this season or risk getting nothing in return. In a small market like Indy, they can’t have a scenario play out like Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City in free agency.
Pritchard said Oladipo only spoke about wanting to “win at a big level,” but gave no indication whether he believed that could be with the Pacers. The Pacers were willing to talk about a contract extension, but it was in Oladipo’s best interest to wait until the offseason when he hits the market and there will be many teams with money to spend.
As for the trade — Once this new, undisclosed concern popped up, the Pacers circled back with the Rockets. The Nets, LeVert’s previous team, then kicked in a second-round pick and cash considerations.
So… in exchange for Oladipo, the Pacers received LeVert, a 2024 second-round pick (via Cavaliers) and $2.6 million from the Nets (per Woj), and the Rockets’ 2023 second-round pick.
How did this deal go down?
Pritchard said that about 10 minutes after a player (clearly Harden) expressed his unhappiness and urged the Rockets to get a deal done, the Pacers got to work. General manager Chad Buchanan focuses on gathering intel and staying abreast on what’s happening around the league.
“But once we knew that Brooklyn and Houston were engaged, we knew that was our opportunity to jump in there and say, 'Can we get Caris?' That's how the negotiation started,” Pritchard said. “It started through Houston in this instance. We didn't feel like that we could get a deal directly with Brooklyn to get Caris. So it took a third team.
“We couldn't be more excited to get Caris here. We've had him on our radar for a long time. We've tried to get him in the past, not just with this trade, but in other trades.”
What’s interesting is that the Rockets valued Oladipo over LeVert, who is younger and cheaper. They could have taken on LeVert, who’s under contract through the 2022-23 season, without including the Pacers. But without Harden, they’re now rebuilding, under the tax and will likely happily wipe Oladipo’s contract off their books after the season.
So what’s next for Caris?
He’ll undergo even more tests and decide the next course of action. Pritchard was unwilling to share whether the mass was cancerous, but the team’s level of concern certainly suggests that.
I can’t help but consider how everything happens for a reason. What a blessing it was for LeVert to be traded. Without an extensive physical from the Pacers, who knows when this small mass may have been found. On top of that, Indy is home to the IU Health Simon Cancer Center. That’s where former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed and treated for a curable form of leukemia.
“On behalf of my family and myself, we want to thank the Indiana Pacers for their support and guidance,” LeVert said in a statement. “We are grateful for their extreme thoroughness during the physical process and I am looking forward to joining the team and being part of this great organization as soon as possible.”
Pacers owner Herb Simon and his son, Steve, were involved in the process as it played out.
“We were able to find something that could help this kid and give him a better and clean prognosis for the rest of his life,” said Pritchard. “So, in a way, it's an incredible story, something that we don't take lightly. And our staff, the local Indianapolis medical community, is truly special. And so big hat-tip tip to those guys because without that, and going through our medical process, we don't find what we found.”
What does the front office like about his game?
He’s a high-character guy. He’s low-key and can be quiet, similar to George Hill. In talking to multiple people around the Nets, not a bad thing was said about him.
He’s 6-6, just over 200 pounds and lengthy. On the court, there’s a lot to like.
He creates with the ball in his hands. He gets to the paint with ease, then can finish or find the open teammate. His 3-point shot needs improvement — he’s 33.9 percent for his career — and you’d like to see him get to the free throw line more than three times each game.
“So once we get this behind us, we feel like we got a player that, more than anything, can make plays for himself, but also makes plays for others,” Pritchard said. “I mean, he's averaging six assists now. And in my mind, with our new offense with the way Nate (Bjorkgren) plays and our triggers and the way we try to get in the paint and make plays, you can give him the ball and you've seen it. If you look at his last 10 games ... he fills the stat book up.”
Were his previous injuries a serious concern?
Absolutely. And they should have been. He’s 26 and has had some rotten luck.
He’s had several surgeries on his left foot while at Michigan. He suffered a scary right-leg injury in 2018 and underwent right thumb surgery in Nov. 2019. Just this year, he was held out of a preseason game due to a bruise of his patella.
Pritchard says they were satisfied with his medical history to agree to the trade in the first place.
“I can tell you we got really comfortable with that,” he said. “We feel like modern medicine is really moving quickly too. I think that's part of it. Once a player is starting to put together a path and games back-to-back and years back-to-back, then you get a little bit more comfortable.
“I think the thing that has hit me the most is that he's been super, super thankful from the minute he got here, working through some stuff, he's been extremely thankful that we're going through this together. I didn't expect to have these kind of conversations but very quickly, I think we're growing to like the kid in a fantastic way.
What about Oladipo?
He’s in a contract year and is back in the red and white, playing for the Rockets. He’ll play alongside John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, but it’s a team that is not good enough to make the playoffs. They’re 4-7.
He was in San Antonio Saturday for the Rockets’ loss to the Spurs, but he didn’t play. The trade was finalized an hour earlier.
“I want to first make sure that we're all honoring and respecting what Victor Oladipo has done for the Indiana Pacers,” Pritchard said. “A few years ago, when we did that trade and acquired Victor and Domas (Sabonis), it kind of felt like there were some some dark clouds and everybody thought that our short-term season and outlook was dim. They came in, they helped create a completely new culture, and I want to make sure that when Victor comes back, that we totally honor and respect what he has done for us.”
Myles Turner was the one Pacer to post something about Victor. “Stay 💯 my boy!” he wrote.
And it should be noted that once the deal was official, the Pacers published not one, but two tweets thanking Victor. That’s a change from the past with guys who made a significant impact on the franchise. They previously stayed away from doing so, especially when it ended poorly, like with Paul George — who was then booed heavily in his first return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
I don’t know for sure, but this was probably at the urging of GM Chad Buchanan, who puts a huge emphasis on relationships and team building.
Oladipo, who actively scrolls social media, retweeted it and added “Thank you! It’s love always.”
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