From hosting All-Star Weekend to producing the biggest trade thus far, the Pacers are leaving their mark this season. But does the momentum in Indiana have staying power?
Don’t look now, but the Indiana Pacers have arrived.
After three consecutive losing seasons, the Pacers are on track to register their first winning record since 2019-20, and they are doing it while playing an exciting brand of basketball and having fun. Sitting at 23-17, fans in Indy are coming out to watch a new-and-improved Pacers squad. And with All-Star Weekend coming to town in a few weeks, the franchise and the city are working together to show the rest of the league what Indianapolis has to offer.
So, what exactly does Indiana have to offer? Let’s start with the engine of what is currently a historically great offense in point guard Tyrese Haliburton, who leads the league in assists with 12.5 per game while also pouring in a career-high 23.6 points per game. Not to mention that Hali is one of the league’s most valuable players relative to his contract, playing out the final year of his rookie deal before his five-year, $205.9 million extension kicks in.
Oh, and he’s only 23 years old.
There’s no question that Haliburton instantly changed this franchise’s trajectory. When the guard was traded to Indy from Sacramento for Domantas Sabonis, he was still finding his footing in the NBA. We knew he was good, but the jury was still out on whether he could be a franchise centerpiece.
Well, that’s no longer a question, with the organization pushing full steam ahead on building around its star playmaker. They did so in the offseason by signing Bruce Brown and trading for Obi Toppin, both plug-and-play guys that thrive alongside a player like Haliburton.
Obviously, these savvy business moves worked, evidenced by Indiana’s remaining above .500 for the entirety of the season thus far and only a half-game behind the New York Knicks and Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. But it was clear that, despite an appearance in the inaugural In-Season Tournament finals, the rising Pacers were still behind the top tier of contenders like the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers.
Haliburton wanted more. Front office executives Kevin Pritchard and Chad Buchanan wanted more. The fans wanted more.
Looking to capitalize on what’s been a successful season for Indiana thus far, Pritchard and Buchanan went out and made the biggest splash of #TradeSZN to this point, acquiring Pascal Siakam from the Toronto Raptors. A two-time All-Star and NBA champion, Siakam could be the piece that catapults this team into that aforementioned upper tier of contenders, and here’s why.
Remember that exciting brand of basketball Indiana plays? That was code for fast — the Pacers average a league-high 106.5 possessions per game. They are most dangerous in transition, where Haliburton is a sniper when it comes to finding his teammates for open looks.
Insert Siakam, who leaves many of his big-man counterparts in the dust on the run while also being one of the most efficient players in transition situations. Additionally, he simply just plays hard, which can go a long way on a team like Indiana.
I’ll let former NBA shooting guard JJ Redick take it from here:
All that said, the trade for Siakam did come at a price. Remember Bruce Brown, the player that Indiana set out to sign in the offseason on the heels of his championship with the Nuggets? He was sent to Toronto in the deal, along with three first-round picks.
Not only that, but Siakam is in the last year of his current contract. Prior to the trade, there were rumors that Siakam would not sign a long-term extension with certain teams, so Indiana must feel pretty good about its chances to re-sign him this offseason if the franchise is giving up that kind of draft capital for a potential rental.
And that extension won’t be cheap. Siakam’s salary for this season is nearly $38 million, which will likely be the starting point of his next deal, presumably with the Pacers. He will likely demand in the $40-50 million range, which sounds like a lot for a player nearing 30. And while it’s certainly not a small number, keep in mind the salary cap will increase yearly.
With Haliburton’s extension kicking in next year — his first year will clock in at roughly $35 million — coupled with an assumed Siakam extension, things will get tricky regarding free agency and recruiting another high-level player. But with the way Haliburton has played, while leaning into the city and fanbase, the tune is changing in Indianapolis.
“They look at how much fun it is to play there. How much fun (Haliburton) is to play with. How unselfish he is,” ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski said while explaining how players around the league are eyeing Indiand. “And it sometimes allows you to play up in class in terms of your market. He makes up for the difference that a midwestern market might’ve had trouble keeping the guy.”
Look, the move certainly comes with risk.
Maybe he’s a sticky fit next to center Myles Turner. Maybe the pairing between him and Haliburton isn’t as seamless as we think. Time will tell, but this move was made with the idea that Siakam would stay in Indiana long-term, partnering with the charismatic Haliburton on their climb to the top of the East.
All-Star Weekend is just around the corner, and the Pacers organization has been preparing and building for years for 2024. But the way the team is moving right now is a play for the future, setting Indiana up to be a potential contender for years to come.
Want More NBA?
Breaking down Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s business & endorsement portfolios as part of FanDuel’s Boardroom Brand Builders Parlay….
As part of Boardroom’s Black History Month coverage, take a look at Walton’s career and her work in DEI to find out why she’s become a playmaker to watch and learn from in the…