The Indiana Pacers selected UCLA forward TJ Leaf with the 18th overall pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night as they head into an off-season of uncertainty.
The 6-foot-10 Israeli-American joins a team in complete transformation mode.
"He adds versatility to our roster," coach Nate McMillan said. "I really love his spirit. He's a very positive kid, a very confident kid, believes in team basketball, believes in playing the game the right way."
Leaf moved at a young age to California where he's lived most of his life. At UCLA this season he shot 61.7 percent from the field, and averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Indiana also had the 47th overall pick.
After taking over for Larry Bird as president of basketball operations in May, Kevin Pritchard is spending his first offseason running the show trying to piece together a team that can deliver Indiana its first NBA title.
Pritchard's approach changed drastically last week when four-time All-Star Paul George alerted the Pacers of his plan to pursue a new team following the 2017-18 season. Trade rumors involving the Pacers have nearly been nonstop ever since.
Instead of finding the right pieces to surround George with—and possibly provide him with the incentives to remain in Indiana—Pritchard is in search of a combination of players who will give the Pacers a new look. The declaration by the 27-year-old George to leave casts a shadow over Indiana as Pritchard tries to lay the foundation for a potential post-George era.
Indiana hasn't made a serious playoff run since making back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference finals in 2013 and 2014. The Pacers have struggled to consistently be competitive for the past three seasons, missing the playoffs in 2015 and losing in the first round the last two years.
Speculation of a possible packaged trade deal involving George before the draft didn't shake out. Pritchard could be waiting to see how things play out when free agency begins July 1. Or he may still have hope of persuading George to stay by improving the team's roster.
Leaf was the first step in doing that.
"I really like his length," McMillan said. "I like his ability to play catch-and-shoot basketball, his ability to play off the ball. Again, he just adds versatility."