The Indiana Pacers continued their offseason roster shuffling Thursday with the acquisition of rookie center Rakeem Christmas from the Cleveland Cavaliers for a 2019 second-round draft choice.
It’s the same pick obtained from the Los Angeles Lakers in the trade of center Roy Hibbert earlier this month.
Christmas, 6-9 and 250, was drafted last month in the second round with the 36th overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who then traded him to the Cavaliers. The Syracuse senior averaged 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds last season and played in 142 career college games for the Orangemen.
The Pacers have shifted their focus to a faster-paced, up-tempo style to boost scoring, but President Larry Bird saw the need to add more size. And Christmas evidently made a favorable impression during pre-draft workouts.
“We really liked Rakeem when he came in for pre-draft workouts,” Bird said in a team release. “He is a solid player who was a contributor all four years at Syracuse and we look forward to having him on our team.”
The Pacers used their first-round draft choice to select Texas center Myles Turner with the 11th overall pick. They also signed Lakers center Jordan Hill in free agency as well as shooting guard Monta Ellis. Small forward Chase Budinger was acquired for Damjan Rudez. Shooting guard Rodney Stuckey and forward Lavoy Allen were re-signed.
Hibbert’s exodus as well as forward David West opting out of his contract meant the Pacers needed bigs. Turner’s selection filled an obvious need, but the team still lacked depth inside.
Where Christmas fits into the mix is uncertain because Bird has said he intends to play two-time All-Star Paul George primarily at power forward.
Who gets the minutes at center now becomes more of a question. The Pacers still have backup Ian Mahinmi, who likely retains a reserve role. Hill has six years experience and averaged 12 points and 7.9 rebounds in 57 starts, all career bests last season.
But the 7-foot Turner excelled in recent summer league play and will get his share of minutes, either at center or power forward.
Christmas recently played in four summer league games and averaged 8 points and 4.5 rebounds.
Allen was re-signed because he’s a tenacious rebounder with four years NBA experience. If Christmas blossoms, the Pacers could rotate him in at power forward with George shifting back to his normal position at small forward.
Christmas and the Pacers agreed to a four-year contract with the first two seasons guaranteed, according to ESPN, which cited unnamed sources.
Reserve forward Luis Scola and reserve guard C.J. Watson signed as free agents with Toronto and Orlando, respectively.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.