“Larry Bird and Indiana really f***ed up by trading away Kawhi Leonard on draft night!”: How the Pacers made one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history during the 2011 NBA Draft

Former Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird exchanged the rights to Kawhi Leonard for George Hill on draft night, a move which would backfire horribly.

Entering into the 2011 NBA draft, the Indiana Pacers were an up-and-coming team in the East. They had a certified bucket in Danny Granger, who had 20 PPG the previous season, and a young Paul George, who was one of the best young players in the league at the time.

At the time, the Pacers executive Larry Bird felt that they needed a guard to complement their PG in Darren Collison to make a playoff push. As a result, the Celtics legend pulled the trigger for a draft night move that would eventually end up as one of the worst trades in NBA history.

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Indiana Pacers make the biggest mistake in franchise history by trading away Kawhi Leonard on draft night.

In the 2010-11 season, the Indiana Pacers had just made the playoffs for the first time in half a decade. So, when they entered the 2011 NBA draft, there were rumours of them trading away their pick for a proven player in the league to make a deep playoff run.

They had the 15th overall pick, and choose to go with a lanky wing from San Diego State. That happened to be Kawhi Leonard. However, Bird asked around the league if any team was interested in the defensive wing. And they found interest from the Spurs, who were at the height of their dominance.

As a result, San Antonio sent guard George Hill to the Pacers in exchange for Leonard’s draft rights. And to be honest, at the time, it made sense for both teams. Kawhi Leonard was raw and a project and no one really knew his true ceiling as a player, and the Spurs were willing to take a flyer.

Meanwhile, George Hill had a pretty good previous year, averaging 11.6 points and 2.5 assists. Moreover, the Pacers already had a 2-way wing in Paul George who was showing glimpses of superstardom. So, it seemed to be a win-win at the time.

However, we all know how it turned out. Kawhi Leonard turned out to be the best player in the draft class, winning 2 championships, one with the Spurs, and one of the Raptors, while taking the Finals MVP on both occasions. Meanwhile, Hill turned out to be a solid role player for various teams in the league.

In fact, both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are on the LA Clippers now, and when healthy, look like one of the best duos of basketball. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but it’s fun to imagine a what-if scenario for the Pacers.

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