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What the Hell Happened With the Jeff Teague Trade?

The Hawks, Jazz, and Pacers shuffle their decks

Getty Images
Getty Images

It was a little too quiet, you know? Early this afternoon, The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers, and Atlanta Hawks were involved in a three-way trade that would send Jeff Teague to Indiana, George Hill to Utah, and the no. 12 overall pick in tomorrow’s draft to Atlanta. Who doesn’t love a good predraft trade?

It’s early, but here’s how it looks for the three teams involved:

Indiana

The Pacers have had a hometown hero run point for almost four years, when George Hill took over the starting role during the 2012–13 season. It’ll continue for at least one more year with Indianapolis native Teague entering the fold. He fits the Pacers’ revised timetable, built around Paul George and Myles Turner as franchise cornerstones; Teague is two years younger than Hill, and has proved himself as a 3-point shooter and handler in the pick-and-roll.

But there was a reason why Teague had been floating on the trading block for much of the season; he was played to a dead heat by his backup, Dennis Schroder. Though they have eerily similar physical characteristics (6-foot-2, with enormous 6-foot-7 wingspans), Schroder proved in short time that he was the more trustworthy of the two on the defensive end, and his hellhound lateral quickness was a perfect fit in Atlanta’s manic trap-and-recover scheme, which made the Hawks a top-two defense in the regular season. By the end of his tenure, Teague looked surplus to requirements in the presence of a younger, cheaper version of himself.

Teague has a beyond-reasonable contract at an even $8 million annually, and he’s entering the final year of that deal. The Pacers are reportedly looking to extend Teague’s contract, which will almost certainly involve renegotiating his salary for the 2016–17 season. He won’t be offering a hometown discount, either. It’s extremely unlikely that the Pacers moved on from Hill (who conveniently also makes exactly $8 million a year) to pay Teague max money this season, but it’s in play! And if that’s the case, he has a chance to earn something like a 225 percent raise. That is a magnificent win for Teague.

Utah

You trade for George Hill when you feel you’re on the precipice of something. The Pacers were brutalized by the Bulls in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, but it was a beacon in disguise. Desperate for some answer on Derrick Rose, the Pacers stuck an eager and willing Paul George on him. In that handful of possessions, George’s latent potential glimmered. The Pacers had found their way. They just needed stability. Hill started all 11 playoff games in 2011–12, his first season with the Pacers, pushing Indy to six games in an eye-opening series against the Miami Heat.

Disclaimer: Hill is one of my favorite players, and I’m going to opt out of defending that statement. Hill is not exciting. He is the Alex Smith of NBA starting point guards, a caretaker who can do a lot of things well enough while still remaining invisible through the course of a game. He makes good teams better. He averaged 12 points, four rebounds, and 3.5 assists last season; he shot nearly 41 percent from 3. He had the second-highest playoff on-court net rating of any Pacer outside of Paul George, and George beat him out by only a tenth of a point.

Even at 30, he is thriving within the shifting inequalities of the league. Teams don’t need ball-dominant point guards anymore. Circulate the ball, move off the ball, find open looks, and don’t look like an idiot when switched on a bigger defender. Hill has been an above-average shooter his entire career, he’s never averaged more than two turnovers a game, and he has one of the longest wingspans relative to his height in the NBA.

Utah’s defensive monolith will get stronger with Hill. Playing him with Dante Exum and Gordon Hayward in a lineup allows for maximum versatility without any ball-stopping. The Jazz have been so close to relevancy for what has felt like an eternity. It doesn’t look like much; it never does with Hill. But the Jazz are a playoff team now. Like, for real.

Atlanta

The Hawks are moving forward with Schroder, which was clear to any of the 15 people who intently watched the Cavs eviscerate the Hawks in four games back in May. As a team out east, the only objective is to construct a squad that can conceivably match up well against a LeBron-led juggernaut; the Hawks have shown in their eight consecutive postseason losses to the Cavs over the past two seasons that they have neither the scheme nor the personnel to counter the King. So maybe it’s time to blow it up?

Landing the no. 12 pick feels like a contingency plan in the likely case that Al Horford — Atlanta’s rock for nearly a decade — takes off in free agency. There is an indistinguishable glut of modern NBA centers in the lower lottery to choose from and there isn’t one that inspires a great deal more confidence than the others. Pray for Atlanta if its future ends up looking like Jakob Poeltl.

Then again, we thought it was an exceedingly fair trade the last time a first-round pick was acquired in a George Hill trade. The vibes are similar. Who knows? The Hawks could very well luck into their own generational talent.