Bird Finally Bags His Man

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by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

July 27, 2013 | Updated: 3:50 PM

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The acquisition of Luis Scola from Phoenix ends a lengthy courtship from Pacers president Larry Bird, who had been privately voicing his interest in the veteran forward for years.

I recall a casual conversation with Bird five or six years ago, following a press conference. Bird said then he really liked Scola [ Stats ], who at the time was either the property of San Antonio, which had drafted Scola in 2005, or Houston, where he was traded in 2007 without playing for the Spurs. Bird had quietly reiterated his respect for Scola's game while 6-9 Argentinian played for Houston, so Saturday's announcement was the fruition of a long-held desire rather than some overnight infatuation.

By any measure, the trade that sends Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a 2014 lottery-protected first-round draft pick to the Suns provides an upgrade. Scola is a skilled low-post scorer and mid-range shooter, and an adequate rebounder. He is a below-average defender, but then so was Green and so was the player Scola replaces in the rotation at power forward, Tyler Hansbourgh. Besides, if Scola was as good defensively as he is offensively, he'd likely be a perennial All-Star and command a salary far greater than the $4.5 million he'll receive next season.

After losing Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph, the Pacers merely needed a quality backup for David West, and Scola is perfect for that role. He wouldn't be a bad fit as a starter, in fact, because in many ways he's a reproduction of West. They're of a similar size and age and have a similar skill set and maturity level. Having two David Wests would not be a bad thing for any team.

Scola has started 410 of the 468 games he has played in the NBA, which he joined at the age of 27 after playing in Argentina and Spain. He has career averages of 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds, and has hit 50 percent of his field goal attempts. Featured more in Houston's offense in the 2010-11 season, he averaged a career-high 18.3 points. He scored a career-high 44 points the season prior to that. He can score, and he'll get his share of rebounds.

Despite the loss of three assets, it's a no-brainer deal for the Pacers. Scola fills what seemed the lone remaining gap in their roster, while Green and Plumlee weren't likely to play much.

Although an explosive player at times – remember, he scored 34 points in the final regular season game, when four of the starters were rested - Green was not part of the rotation for most of the playoffs. The anticipated return of Danny Granger and the addition of first-round draft pick Solomon Hill were likely to shove him farther toward the end of the bench, perhaps off the active roster.

Plumlee would have gotten more of an opportunity than the 55 minutes he got last season as a backup power forward and center, but he's no Scola and the Pacers are in a win-now mode. It's still not fair to label Plumlee a bust because (1) he hasn't played enough to prove he can't play and (2) 26th picks in the draft can hardly be busts, but his inclusion in the deal reduces the Pacers' payroll a fraction and creates a potential opening for a more established player. The draft pick sent to the Suns is likely to be another one in the range of No. 26, and unlikely to bring immediate help. It's never difficult for NBA teams to get young, promising players and guys who can contribute something off the bench. It's much more difficult to get proven talent such as Scola's.

Scola was expendable for the Suns, who are in a youth-oriented rebuilding project. The Suns are overflowing with power forwards, with Markieff Morris, Michael Beasley and Channing Frye, who sat out last season because of an enlarged heart but is expected to return. They have a new coach in Jeff Hornacek and a new general manager in Ryan McDonough, who was part of Boston's front office when the Celtics drafted Green in the first round in 2005. They plan to play at a faster pace next season, and Scola is better suited for a half-court offense. As strange as it sounds, he was a superfluous luxury for the Suns, but an absolute necessity for the Pacers.

Scola's acquisition nearly scrubs away last summer's effort to improve the Pacers' bench, which met with mixed results. Green, Sam Young and D.J. Augustin are gone, and Ben Hansbrough's status is uncertain. Scola, Hill, Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson and Donald Sloan have been added. Ian Mahinmi so far has survived the purge. The Pacers' roster now stands at 13, leaving room to add a couple more players if they choose.

All in all, the reserve unit should be vastly improved offensively and about the same defensively. For a contending team with minimal room under luxury tax threshold to spend on free agents, that qualifies as a successful summer.

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