The Indiana Pacers finally decided to undergo a rebuild over the past few months. They made a fantastic move to pick up a solid young point guard in Tyrese Haliburton at the 2021 NBA trade deadline to build their team around, and have been busy rebuilding their roster this offseason as a result.
The Pacers were mired in mediocrity over the past few seasons, but are going to try to start fresh during the 2022-23 season. The moves they have made this offseason have helped, and Indiana may be a sneaky competitive team in the Eastern Conference this upcoming season.
There were some good moves the Pacers made this offseason, as well as some bad ones. Of course, one of the biggest moves the Pacers needed to make, and very nearly did, could have helped speed up their rebuilding process. Let’s look at that move and see why Indiana needed it and how it would have benefitted the team moving forward.
Pacers offseason move they needed to make
Sign Deandre Ayton
For the most part, the Pacers played their cards right in free agency this offseason. And they very nearly sped up their rebuild by signing Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton in free agency. Had they managed to pull this off, Indiana would have been in business.
Ayton’s free agent saga was pretty complicated. He was a restricted free agent, and the Suns didn’t want to offer him the max contract he was looking for. There was one team that was willing to give Ayton that deal, and that was the Pacers. They sent an offer sheet to Ayton for a four-year, $133 million deal, which was the max he could be offered.
Rather than lose Ayton for nothing, the Suns ended up matching, and kept Ayton around for the price he wanted. It was a bold play by the Pacers, and it very nearly paid off. Instead, they will have to wait until next offseason to make a big splash in free agency.
The Pacers didn’t really do anything wrong here, but it’s clear this is the move they needed to make this offseason. Sometimes you can play your hand right and still lose, and that’s what happened to Indiana here. They struck at the perfect time, and forced the Suns to make a move that they didn’t really want to make. There’s some solace to be had there.
It’s clear, though, that Ayton would have been a perfect fit in Indiana. He fits their rebuild timeline quite well considering he’s just 24 years old, giving Haliburton a center to run with for the foreseeable future. The Pacers could run double-big lineups with him and Myles Turner that would do some serious damage to the rest of the league, or even trade Turner and pick up some more assets in the process.
Ayton hasn’t necessarily lived up to his billing as the top overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft, but he’s still a solid two-way center who can dominate the paint. Putting him in a lineup with a pass-happy guard such as Haliburton and another paint proctector in Turner would result in a scary lineup for the Pacers as they begin their rebuild.
But the Pacers ended up missing out on Ayton, and are now sent back to the drawing board. They have some solid future assets in the draft, and if they wanted to fully blow things up, they could trade away some of their other veterans to get more picks. They also have the money available to pick up a star player in free agency, which not many other teams in the league can boast.
Indiana is in a good position to make some noise on the other end of this rebuild. Had they managed to land Ayton, the end of the rebuild could have potentially come sooner rather than later. Not to mention, if Ayton were to breakout next season, the Pacers would have had an extremely team-friendly deal for a young center who still has a lot of room to grow as a two-way player.
But that rebuild has hit a bit of a road block in their failed pursuit of Ayton. Again, there wasn’t much that they could do to avoid this, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.
Deandre Ayton could have helped the Pacers see immediate success this upcoming season if the Suns opted to not match their offer sheet. Instead, Indiana will spend the upcoming season assessing the young talent on their roster and seeing whether or not they need to blow up their roster even more than they already have.