In their first move of free agency, the Indiana Pacers have agreed to trade Malcolm Brogdon to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith, Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan, and a 2023 first-round pick, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Prior to the start of last season, the Pacers signed Brogdon to an additional two-year contract extension worth $45 million in a move which seemed to signal the organization’s intentions to continue building with him as a centerpiece; however, once the team veered toward a new direction at the trade deadline, he and Tyrese Haliburton didn’t exactly mesh, neither on the court nor from the perspective of their respective timelines.
Instead, the Pacers got outscored by a brutal 17.2 points per 100 possessions (allowing 127.9 per 100) in 201 minutes with both point guards on the floor. That’s obviously a very small sample size, and it bears pointing out that Brogdon initially returned on a minutes restriction in the wake of his extended absence due to Achilles soreness and later sustained a concussion. Still, the Pacers lost the minutes in which both of them were on the floor in each of the eights games they played together, despite winning three. Worse still, the team produced a negative net rating with the pairing on the floor in first, second, third, and fourth quarters, suggesting that end of games woes weren’t the only worry.
Haliburton’s usage rate, meanwhile, plummeted to 16.9 percent with Brogdon compared to 20.9 percent without Brogdon, as the offense had a tendency to tilt toward one-and-done isolations for the latter as primary in late-game situations, even when tempo was needed.
Individually, Brogdon was a paint missile after returning from injury, averaging the fifth-most drives per game in the NBA (22.9), but he did so with a strong will, at times notably turning down open threes, of which he converted at only a 33 percent clip. For a team that needed to be focused on play development, he also attempted more shots than Haliburton, who the team pointedly referred to as a franchise-caliber point guard after he was acquired.
Still, when healthy, there’s no denying Brogdon’s ability to bend and collapse defenses.
But, that’s the thing: He failed to reach 60 games played for the third time in his three seasons with the Pacers. Plus, even with the team not necessarily having any incentive to bring him back amidst their quasi-tanking endeavors, it was somewhat curious that, after returning for eight games, he was listed as out for what was termed as “rest” for several contests, including somehow being questionable with “rest” against the Denver Nuggets, before ultimately sitting out the remainder of the season with back soreness.
Aside from that weirdness, though, he and Haliburton should’ve been complementary in that they are more different than they are similar. After all, Brogdon is arguably more of a 1.75 in a positional sense, being a combo guard who can run offense but would be better preserved as a second-side bully, whereas Haliburton’s finesse for keeping defenses off-balance with his feel for deception shines with increased playmaking control. And yet, the former prefers to be methodical and in the past has said he believes his best position is point guard, whereas the latter — at least when he has possession of the ball — would rather inbound and look for hit-ahead passes or get downhill as quickly as possible.
To be fair, Brogdon is more than capable of reading defenses, but he doesn’t have Haliburton’s same knack for manipulation. If they had remained on the same team, there would’ve needed to be a change in mentality from each of them, which is to say nothing of the two most important factors which are: 1) the age gap, with Brogdon set to turn 30 next season, and 2) the return. For the Pacers, who closed the season on a 10-game losing streak and went 3-5 even when Brogdon was available, acquiring an additional first-round pick does more for their future trajectory than retaining someone to drain usage, in a potentially losing season, from the player for which they traded their two-time All-Star. After all, next season should be about development and determining the limits of what Haliburton can and will be willing to do with the ball in his hands, rather than taking it away from him.
Of course, coming via a team that just lost in the NBA Finals, Boston’s pick tracks to be dangerously close to the second round, which is a far cry from the lottery picks that were rumored (but likely never offered) around the draft. Still, if the Cavs make the playoffs, the pick the Pacers acquired from Cleveland in exchange for Caris LeVert will convey as a first, so they *could* potentially package those picks together, along with their own, to move up.
Plus, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade also drops Indiana to $31 million below the salary cap, enough for a max slot to potentially make a run at another player (Deandre Ayton?) or take on other contracts and picks.
Aaron Nesmith, meanwhile, is a shooter in theory, who can move and attack closeouts. He gets lost defensively at times, which didn’t exactly make him a fit for a contending roster, but taking a chance on a young player blossoming or regaining his confidence in a new environment is what rebuilding teams do. That said, the stockpile of 6’6 and under off-ball shooting specialists, with Chris Duarte, Bennedict Mathurin, Buddy Hield, and Duane Washington Jr. already in tow, doesn’t exactly provide a clear pathway for playing time.
According to Wojnarowski, the contracts of Fitts, Morgan, and Stauskas, the hindmost of whom the Pacers previously acquired from the Rockets in 2019 for an extra second-round pick, will have to be guaranteed in order to make the deal work.
As for Daniel Theis, who is arguably a better screener than anyone else on the roster, Myles Turner (barring an additional trade) already projects to start at center, with Operation Solo Five set to finally reach it’s apex. If that mission is going to get off the ground, he needs to actually be defended by fives — not just play the five. That means Theis will likely be in competition with Isaiah Jackson and Goga Bitadze for minutes, though the former should already be penciled in as the back-up, if not also swinging some to the four-spot (otherwise, what are we doing here?).
Overall, without further knowledge of what else might be in the works, there appears to be some degree of roster imbalance at the moment, but the main goal of clearing the way for Haliburton and acquiring assets (and cap space) to build with Haliburton was accomplished for a player who was hurt most of the time and, like the Pacers, needed a change.