Oladipo’s absence will be a big blow for Indiana (39-26), which was tied for the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed when the season was suspended in March amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. While the Pacers can’t drop lower than sixth in the East during the eight regular season games that will precede the playoffs, they will miss the dynamic playmaker in a series against any of their most likely first-round opponents: the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat or Philadelphia 76ers.
“We totally respect and understand Victor’s decision to not play in the restart of the NBA’s season,” Pacers President Kevin Pritchard said in a statement. “The first priority for our players is, and always will be, their health, whether that be physical or mental health. Victor has looked great in workouts, but the timing of the restart and lack of 5-on-5 activity makes it difficult to for him to commit to playing at the high level he expects with regards to further injury. His future health is the No. 1 priority and we look forward to having him back at full strength for the 2020-21 season.”
This was mostly a lost season for Oladipo, who missed the first three months during his rehabilitation effort. After returning Jan. 29, he played limited minutes and was in and out of the lineup, posting averages of 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Other NBA stars, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets, have also opted to sit out of the restart at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex outside Orlando as they recover from major injuries.
Indiana, which has lost in the first round for four consecutive postseasons, will also be without Jeremy Lamb, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in February. Malcolm Brogdon’s positive coronavirus test last week further complicates the Pacers’ lineup questions before their first game back Aug. 1 against the 76ers.
Brogdon, 27, averaged a career-high 16.3 points and 7.1 assists this season, stepping in as the Pacers’ primary ballhandler as Oladipo worked back from a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his right leg suffered in January 2019. In a June 24 statement, Brogdon said he was “doing well, feeling well and progressing well” and that he planned to join the Pacers in Orlando.
“This team has shown great resolve in responding to adversity and we fully expect this will be no different,” Pritchard said. “We remain excited about what they can accomplish in Orlando.”
Oladipo, 28, had every reason to err on the side of caution this summer: He is set to enter the final season of a four-year, $84 million contract in 2020-21. If he can return to the all-NBA level of play that he displayed in 2018, he should emerge as one of the most coveted names in a 2021 free agent class that could also include LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George.
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