The Indiana Pacers put forth a valiant effort against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they ultimately succumbed to a four-game sweep on Monday night.

The Pacers actually had late leads in three of their four losses, but they were simply unable to close the deal against a much more talented and more experienced Celtics squad.

The good news is that the future looks bright in Indiana.

Let's start by going over what the Pacers do well.

Offensively, Indiana is terrific. The Pacers ranked second in the NBA in offensive efficiency this season. They also placed second in pace, as head coach Rick Carlisle has instilled an uptempo style of ball into his young group of gifted scorers.

Tyrese Haliburton enjoyed a brilliant season, Pascal Siakam significantly elevated the club after coming over in a midseason trade and Andrew Nembhard displayed significant potential during the playoffs. You then have Bennedict Mathurin, who demonstrated considerable promise in his sophomore season before going down with a season-ending shoulder injury.

The Pacers are an absolute nightmare to guard, and even the defense-savvy Celtics had some difficulty with them in this last series.

Unfortunately for Indiana, the game is about more than offense, and that is what brings us to the biggest need the Pacers must address this offseason.

The Pacers need better defensive players

May 27, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Pascal Siakam (43) during the second quarter during game four of the eastern conference finals for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Landing Siakam in January was huge. He absolutely bolstered Indy's shoddy defense, which ended up ranked 24th in the league this season. However, the Pacers need more than just Siakam, and it's also worth noting that Siakam is getting set to hit free agency.

Make no mistake: re-signing Siakam is a must for Indiana. The Pacers are expected to offer Siakam a max contract this summer, which would be a five-year, $245 million deal. That would be more than any other squad can offer the 30-year-old outright, so at this point, it seems hard to imagine him departing Indy.

But here's the thing: if the Pacers keep Siakam on such a massive deal, it will severely limit what they can do otherwise.

Haliburton is already locked up through 2029 and is slated to earn $35.5 million next season. Myles Turner will be getting a hair under $20 million in what will be the final year of his deal in 204-25. That's a bargain for a player like Turner, but it still takes up cap space, nonetheless. If Siakam signs for the max, that will be $49 million annually for him.

If Siakam re-signs, the Pacers will need to get very creative in order to improve their roster.

Signing any big-name players in free agency just won't happen. First of all, top-tier free agents don't sign in Indiana. It just isn't a thing. Second, the Pacers won't have the financial resources to make it happen.

That means general manager Chad Buchanan will have to explore shrewd trades and cheap additions in order to fill out the rest of the team, and the primary thing he should be focusing on is defense.

Outside of Siakam, Turner and Aaron Nesmith, the Pacers are severely lacking in good defensive players. Both on the interior and the perimeter. Turner and Isaiah Jackson are really the only real shot-blocking threats the Pacers have, and Jackson only played 13.1 minutes per game this season. The perimeter defense is simply a disaster, and one can only imagine how horrific it would have been had Indiana not added Siakam.

So, what can the cash-strapped Pacers really do?

Obviously, expensive free agents will probably not be an option, but Indiana could pursue cheap three-and-D guys like De'Anthony Melton. The Pacers can also pursue trades, which may actually represent the more feasible option in terms of landing impact players.

Indiana is really not that far away, especially in the Eastern Conference where Boston is really the only team head and shoulders above the Pacers.

The right moves this offseason—landing good defensive players with upside—could go a long way in Indy potentially winning 50 games and contending next season.