For the Indiana Pacers, 2022 may be one of the most impactful, if not memorable years in franchise history, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time.
It actually started on New Year’s Eve in a life-sucking loss to the Chicago Bulls at the Fieldhouse. The Pacers, playing without Malcolm Brogdon (natch) but with Domantas Sa Sabonis and Myles Turner and Caris LeVert and Torey Craig doing good things off the bench, took a 106-103 lead after a pair of LeVert free throws with 56 seconds left in the game.
From that point forward, the franchise would be altered drastically. DeMarr DeRozan cashed in an offensive rebound to make the score 106-105. A Justin Holiday turnover turned into a wild DeRozan three ball at the buzzer, to give the Bulls a 108-106 win, or more importantly, a Pacers 108-106 loss. The end result left the Pacers 14-22 compared to the Bulls, a team the Pacers started the season comparing themselves to, sitting at 22-10.
This was the moment the Pacers front office points toward as the impetus for all of the changes that would follow. The lineup for the final six-plus minutes of that game was Oshae Brissett, Caris LeVert, Justin Holiday, Torrey Craig and Domas Sabonis. Only Oshae remains with the Pacers as a key player off the bench.
The Pacers went on to deal Torrey Craig to the Suns for Jalen Smith AND and a second round pick. Caris LeVert fetched a protected first round pick which will pay off this year from the Cavs. Sabonis and Holiday turned into the face of the franchise, Tyrese Haliburton AND Buddy Hield, whose value from behind the arc continues to expand so much the team may not try to flip him before the trade deadline. Oh, and they move Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics for a first round pick, the value he’s delivered as a reserve for the championship contending Celtics, AND Aaron Nesmith (really!!!) who has continually improved throughout the season to become a reliable starter, even if he’s playing out of position.
This all happened after DeMar DeRozan made a wild three ball delivering the Pacers their third consecutive loss in a 1-10 stretch that turned the season into a disaster. But to the credit of the front office, they recognized the odor of disaster and went to work to alter the franchise for a brighter future.
So bright, in fact, that the current Pacers are 19-17, in sixth place in the East when they were expected to be a high-pick lottery team. This with admittedly big holes to fill, specifically at the big wing spot. Can you imagine Paul George agreeing to play PF on this team (oh, yeah, that isn’t an option). How about TJ Warren? The oft (ok, quite oft) injured offensive wing, capable of holding down the D at PF would be fantastic on this squad.
But there is no looking back for this Pacers team with head coach Rick Carlisle embracing every aspect of developing the young talent on the roster to play above their expectations. Moves are still there to be made before the trade deadline, but this day in particular is a time to look back one year from right now and appreciate the incredible progress the franchise has made from this time last year.