KRAVITZ: Whether Thad Young stays or goes, it won't have any impact on the Pacers' Thursday draft

Bob Kravitz

The decision matrix, as Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard called it recently, begins and ends with Thad Young.

The Pacers' power forward and budding team leader has until June 29 to decide whether to accept or decline a player option that would pay him $13.7 million next season. According to reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, Young is leaning toward declining it and looking for a longer-term free-agent deal, either here in Indiana or elsewhere.

So as the Pacers head into Thursday's NBA Draft – they worked out more players Tuesday, including Butler's Kelan Martin – the future with respect to Young is clear as mud. They don't know for sure whether he's staying or going.

The fervent hope is that he decides to remain in Indy, where his decidedly ordinary numbers – 11.8 points-per-game and 6.4 rebounds-per-game – belies the fact he is a key cog on this team, a player who can guard multiple positions.

My question, then, to Pacers' scouting director Ryan Carr was this: "Will the uncertainty surrounding Young have an impact on the Pacers' draft-night direction Thursday?''

His answer: Not at all.

"What we're trying to do is find a player who has the best chance to be an NBA player, at least a rotational player, so I don't think you're too worried about trying to fit a guy in, not in the 20's,'' Carr said. "If you look at the stats on hits and misses in the draft, you'd better pick the guy who has the best chance of having an NBA career.''

If the Pacers were selecting within the lottery, that would be a somewhat different story. Then they could focus more on power forwards and fill a specific need. But at No. 23 – assuming they stay at No. 23 and don't trade out or trade up – the Pacers are in the business of selecting the best player available, regardless of the position he plays.

As Carr said, at No. 23, you're looking for a developmental player who can grow into a rotation guy two, three years down the line. Unless you get extraordinarily fortunate and draft a future Hall-of-Famer like Alex English, who was taken with the 23rd pick in the draft.

The Pacers don't have overwhelming needs as much as they require upgrades. They need shooters to surround Victor Oladipo. They need more bulk up front to improve the team's rebounding, one of the few sore spots last season. They could use another point guard (JALEN BRUNSON!!!!) who can eventually develop into a starter or a backup with Darren Collison and Cory Joseph both entering the final year of their contracts. They could use a wing who can defend multiple positions.

History tells us the No. 23 selection is not necessarily a throwaway pick. Some players who've been taken at 23: The aforementioned English. OG Anunoby. Nikola Mirotic. Tayshaun Prince. Travis Best. A.C. Green. And others.

"We always talk about the draft as essential for a team like ours,'' Carr said. "We're going to need guys to overachieve whether they're at 11, 23, 19, whatever. When you're drafting 23rd, it's pretty rare to find someone who can step in and be a starter, or even a high rotation guy as a rookie. It's going to take some time. It's a big jump.''

Clearly, it would be nice to have Young back; he's a glue guy, the Draymond Green of the Eastern Conference, a leader in the locker room and on the court.

That said, the Pacers have said repeatedly they want to continue to explore a front-court pairing of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, and if you've seen Turner lately, you know he's been on the Oladipo training program. After just five weeks of off-season work, the Pacers' center is absolutely ripped, shredded, has done to his body what Oladipo did to his last off-season. The Pacers wanted him to get bigger and stronger, and he's made that happen.

"I saw those (before-and-after) pictures,'' Carr said with a smile. "He looks awesome. And he's only five weeks into training.''

The Pacers aren't just looking for talent; they're looking for personality, for someone who will fit seamlessly into a locker room that is universally viewed as being one of the best in the league. Back when Carr began his Pacers' career 15 years ago, teams didn't have as many opportunities to sit down with prospects and learn what they were all about. But that has changed, and now, the Pacers (and everybody else in the league) has a better sense of the player's personality as well as his talent.

By now, most of the hard work has been done. As they say, the hay's in the barn. There will still be more film to watch and judge, but by and large, the Pacers know the identities of the 15 or 16 players who will be taken by the time they select at 23, and they have a sense of who might be available when their time comes.

"We still have to make a lot of phone calls to try and boil down what other teams are doing,'' Carr said. "And then it's about making sure we're dialed in and organized. We want Thursday to be as smooth and calm as possible. When [trade] calls come in for Kevin [Pritchard], we want to be organized and have answers for him at our fingertips. We don't want to be disorganized and it's my job to make sure we aren't. There are no arguments going on during draft night. You don't want confusion at that point. You want clarity when you have to make decisions. Most of the major arguments already have been hashed out.''

They could move up. They could move down. They could stand pat. Every option is on the table.

The 23rd pick doesn't figure to be a team or game-changer, but the Pacers have a nice history of mining gold at draft spots where that's not always the case. Paul George was taken 10th. Turner was selected 11th. Lance Stephenson was taken in the second round.

It would be nice to know by now what Young is planning to do, but his future here or elsewhere won't have any impact on how the Pacers operate Thursday. The team is in best-player-available mode, regardless of position. And if that best player happens to be Brunson, well, I won't shed any tears.

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