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The Pacers have chosen a direction

After an eventful day across the NBA, centred around a 6-player deal between the Pacers and Kings, Indiana has found a lane

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Indiana Pacers v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

The last few seasons, the Indiana Pacers have toed the line between competency and miring in mid. Injuries have taken their toll and then some, a failed new coaching hire, and awkward fits often portrayed as obstacles rather than opportunities led to a frustrating year and a half in Indianapolis.

As reporting has built, Herb Simon endlessly quoted, and post-game media shots have added up, Indiana finally reached a breaking point.

The Caris LeVert trade to Cleveland provided flexibility.

The Sabonis trade provided clarity.

Since the initial report in The Athletic and losses have stacked (9-20 since December 7th), I’ve questioned whether or not the team would fully commit to a rebuild, but today eschewed any notions of front office/ownership/management tepidness.

Taking Stock

Who and what has come out

  • Domantas Sabonis to the Kings
  • Jeremy Lamb to the Kings
  • Justin Holiday to the Kings
  • Caris LeVert to the Cavaliers
  • 2022 2nd round pick (Miami’s)
  • 2027 2nd round pick (unspecified)

And who and what has come in

  • Tyrese Haliburton via Sacramento
  • Buddy Hield via Sacramento
  • Tristan Thompson via Sacramento
  • Ricky Rubio via Cleveland
  • 2022 Lottery protected 1st round pick (CLE)
  • 2022 2nd round pick (HOU)
  • 2027 2nd round pick (UTA)

I can’t voice supreme support one way or another and I’m not particularly interested in trade grades the day of: Indiana traded their best player and the Kings traded their best young prospect (who has already produced!).

If I were Monte McNair, I would rather have kept Haliburton and Fox together, shipped out veterans for assets, and committed to a rebuild, one the Kings have needed for some time frankly. However, Sabonis is clearly the better player at the moment, the best player on the Kings, and on a team-friendly contract for the remainder of this year and two more. I think it would be a mistake for the Kings to chase the 10-seed, but it’s worth noting that Sabonis is the first All-Star level player the Kings have rostered since trading DeMarcus Cousins in 2017 (HOW IS IT THAT LONG AGO???).

I believe a great deal in Haliburton, his development track, and who he can become. He could become a better player than Sabonis, but he’s not right now, and this move from Sacramento signifies that McNair likely doesn’t have the vote of confidence from ownership to actually see through a full on rebuild (a consistent issue is ownership expectations and reality of them).

Looking through that lens, I don’t hate this from an actual basketball perspective, but I also need to see more. This is not some plug and play situation where Domas makes them an immediate playoff contender. Can De’Aaron Fox take another step forward after an all over the place season? I’m so intrigued by his fit with Domas, and love the idea of what his off-ball ability and gravity as a generational speedster could look like if utilized properly with Sabonis as a fulcrum. Will the Kings ship out veterans (Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes) to revamp and galvanize around a younger group primed for the next season and to closeout well this year?

As much as I believe in Haliburton as a player moving forward, I feel similarly about Sabonis. He has been an outlier developer for much of his career (not to the same level as Haliburton, more on that) and I think it sells him short to indicate that he’s hit his ceiling. Even just this season, he’s gotten meaningfully better and I’d argue it would be better showcased on a more competitive team. His ball-handling has gotten tighter, he’s improved defensively, particularly with his positioning. Since Rick Carlisle leaned more into less 5-out with Sabonis and more elbow/post-up oriented offense, he’s thrived, he’s gotten to the line more, and his passing has opened up.

This isn’t a trade for a has been over the hill player, this trade has real merits for Sacramento right now and moving forward even if they are giving up on an exceptionally talented young player.

And that is where this all starts for the Pacers. By moving on from Sabonis and indicating a willingness to fully immerse themselves in a rebuild rather than a partial retool (every “re” word pertains to team-building I guess), they opened the door for Haliburton.

Haliburton has been on a ridiculous upward trend from Iowa State to Sacramento, and Kevin Pritchard and co. undoubtedly hope for continued ascendance. He provides arguably the most significant and intriguing building block of a reforming core.

He’s an elite pull-up shooter (40.1% on 2.8 per game), immediately ranking as the best shooter off the bounce on the roster. That shooting opens up his game as a pick and roll creator where he thrives .

He has some limitations as a primary initiator right now due to a lack of burst, but his touch and growing ball skills are tantalizing. His craft as a passer and court vision already make him one of the best playmaking talents in the NBA.

While he may never fully be a “true primary,” I simply couldn't care less. He is a straight up very good basketball player, and sometimes that’s all the nuance you need. Haliburton is capable of scaling incredibly well within multiple roles and still impacting the game; he will undoubtedly get primary reps in Indiana, but that’s part of the point of a rebuild. Identifying what you do and don’t have as a team, assessing how to get to your organizational goals, and building towards that.

Buddy Hield is an incredibly valuable offensive player with significant warts that hinder his game if incapable of being schemed over, a major issue towards the end of his tenure in Sacramento (along with some uhh questionable on-court gaffs and play). He’s one of the best shooters in basketball, something the Pacers have drastically needed, but I wouldn’t be deadset that he’s on the team past Thursday.

Hield has been in trade rumors much of the past few seasons and was reportedly frustrated with his bench role. Other teams had inquired and been involved in trade talks (cough cough Lakers), and it’s hard to picture his role expanding in Indiana as they’ve appeared to truly prioritize a youth movement.

Rubio is out for the season and on an expiring contract.

I would be shocked if Tristan Thompson plays a game in Indiana, as he’s a likely buyout or reroute candidate.

The Pacers are a shoe-in for an upper lottery pick, added another first for this season, and a top-tier second rounder as well. While there’s no guarantee with any of these selections, the flexibility in subsequent deals they could provide as well as potential to build out the rest of the roster with talent the team can struggle to acquire is encouraging.

So what happens with Myles Turner??

According to reports this morning, Turner is still a strong candidate to be moved, with multiple suitors, but it remains to be seen how the Sabonis trade impacted that front.

Charlotte has constantly been linked to Turner and shown significant interest in him: Is a PJ Washington/Turner swap mutually beneficial? If you’re asking me, the answer is yes, but so much just depends on subsequent moves. Do the Pacers view Isaiah Jackson as ultimately a center? The frontcourt has gotten a good deal thinner after dealing Domas.

The wide array of questions that continue to pop up is part of the excitement in the equation, there’s fresh air in Indiana. While the Pacers certainly contributed to some of their own staleness, kicking down the door prior to the trade deadline has opened up the potential of a higher ceiling after the floor had slowly disintegrated over the past two seasons.

Nothing is a surefire win from day one, but it’s hard to not feel some genuine positivity about where the team may be headed in the intermediate future.

Expect a pod from Caitlin and myself on Friday morning! We already have many thoughts on the trades that have transpired and look forward to diving deep into and analyzing it for you on the Indy Cornrows pod then!