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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Oladipo is making the decision easy for the Pacers

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I have never contended to know Victor Oladipo that well at all.

Sure, he’s seen my ugly mug at Pacers practices, after games and occasionally at off-the-court team functions. That’s hardly an in-depth knowledge of what makes this talented young man tick, and I will readily admit there’s no inside scoop here with yours truly, but rather I’m simply reading the tea leaves lately concerning No. 4, which gives us more than a snapshot of his professional intentions. 

Actually, Oladipo is saying quite a bit to both his employer and his fans without actually speaking definitively in terms of his future, choosing instead to communicate his concerns regarding the alleged state of his physical condition through a reporter, as opposed to going through the proper channels with the team media relations department, which has stood by him throughout his entire tenure. 

It’s not the first time a player has postured for an extension of his current deal, which in this case expires after next season, and it certainly won’t be the last time that unnecessary drama is spoon-fed to a member of the media without the team’s knowledge. Unfortunately, that’s quite common in today’s NBA, and teams generally allow these types of miscues to work themselves out.

After all, when a player is under contract for another year, there is leverage, and that goes hand in hand with any forced negotiations.

In Oladipo’s case, the first shot fired across the bow was back in January, when he informed Stadium reporter Shams Charania (as opposed to the team) that he was ready to return from a catastrophic injury which took nearly a year of rehabilitation, thereby forcing the Pacers to hastily conduct a press conference denoting such before the Jan. 29 contest against the Chicago Bulls at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which would turn out to be an ill-advised decision on Oladipo’s part. Clearly, he was not ready to play again and it showed as he struggled mightily with the rigors of NBA-level competition. The quest to return as quickly as possible would be derailed by COVID-19, and the stoppage of play forced Oladipo to conduct an individual workout regimen as opposed to playing actual games. When the league announced its final plan to resume the season some four months later, he again utilized Charania to announce he would not be participating in the revamped NBA season and instead will concentrate on rehabbing more.

Along the way he “discovered” the Pacers were not obligated to pay him the $3 million that remained on his contract for the balance of this pandemic-ridden season if he sat out, so after a conversation with the players union, he recently announced (this time without Charania) there is a good chance he will play in Orlando, where the league has created an allegedly safe bubble-type environment for the conclusion of the regular season and playoffs. 

As a point of clarification, l will concede that only Oladipo knows what his health is at this point and also once again point out the severity of such an injury, which in reality may not be one he can fully recover from. Clearly, there is a very good chance he will never return to the form he displayed prior to rupturing his quadriceps tendon, and that would be tragic for a career that was clearly heading to star status, and a possible maximum-deal contract.

Those facts aside, the manner in which Oladipo has handled his professional affairs of late with the Pacers leaves a lot to be desired.

Is it a ploy by his agent to secure an extension that at this point his employer would balk at, or is it simply coming to terms with the fact that he isn’t 100% healthy and may never be again?

No one could blame him for sitting out the rest of this year and focusing on next season, but it’s time to make that decision and communicate it respectfully through the proper channels, as opposed to the ridiculous manner in which he’s currently doing things. The clock is ticking and while his deal for next year is fully guaranteed for $21 million, Oladipo is clearly looking to his next contract. The problem is how he’s orchestrating the negotiations, which has become embarrassing for him and those who “advise” him. Will he be able to regain his health and play at a high level again? I sure hope so, but there is an obligation on his part to maintain professional communications with the Pacers, and to date they’ve given him a pass. Something tells me that pass has an expiration date upon it, and while Oladipo is apparently betting on his past to secure a new deal, the future for him is at best unclear.  The Pacers obviously hold all the cards, but he can help himself dramatically by simply communicating to them directly as opposed to all the buffers he’s employing. Seems like a simple thing to do, but I honestly don’t think the young man gets it, and that’s a recipe for more confusion and ultimately the end of a promising relationship between a talented player and a franchise that’s been very supportive, one with a rabid fan base that adores him, both on and off the court. 

Danny Bridges, who hopes Victor Oladipo can get healthy and prosper accordingly, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com.

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