The Indiana Pacers have been looking to find their footing in the Eastern Conference over the last several years. When they traded Paul George in 2017, the Pacers were facing a slight rebuild, but they have since moved a lot of pieces through the years to put themselves in a position to succeed once more.
Tyrese Haliburton is now the face of this franchise after agreeing to a five-year, potential $260 million contract extension and despite finishing with a sub-.500 record the last three seasons, Indiana is quickly trending up in the Eastern Conference. Rick Carlisle is one of the more experienced head coaches in the league, which is why he was the perfect choice for this organization in 2021.
From leading championship-contending teams with the Dallas Mavericks to going through rebuilds early on in his coaching career with the New Jersey Nets, Carlisle understands the process of taking a young team and turning it into something special.
For the Pacers, they now find themselves staring at a crossroads entering the 2023-24 season. One path leads them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2020, while the other leads them to the outside looking in, exactly where they finished up this past season. Haliburton and Carlisle have a great relationship with one another and what makes this team so intriguing is their athletic abilities.
Talent exists up and down this roster and Indiana's youth presents a lot of potential, especially on the defensive side of the floor. To make things even better, they still have veteran big man Myles Turner as the anchor of their defense.
Every year he's been in the league, Turner has heard his name come up in trade rumors. Set to begin his ninth NBA season, all of which have been in Indiana, the 27-year-old center is committed to being the experienced leader the Pacers need him to be.
“I'm excited for the All-Star Game, obviously,” he stated on a recent podcast appearance. “That's gonna be in Indiana this year. Y'all gonna see me there, by the way. You heard it here first.”
The two-time block champion is excited for the season ahead and Turner understands what the Pacers are capable of doing. In order for them to reach new heights as a younger organization, he will need to be available and elevate his game to new heights. Turner knows Indiana can be better than they were a season ago and the team believes their veteran can continue to improve, which is why they awarded him with a two-year, $60 million extension in the middle of the 2022-23 season.
“I think we definitely got better. We got that championship mindset with Bruce Brown,” Turner told Dustin Dopirak of The Indy Star this offseason. “He's fresh off a chip. He could have gone anywhere this summer and he chose to come here and build with this group. “I love what we did this summer. I think we got more athletic. I think Tyrese [Haliburton] is going thrive with this… I love how fast we are.”
The one word that best describes the Pacers right now is energy. Every player on this roster brings energy and most importantly, Indiana has created a very positive atmosphere. This organization has a lot of potential entering the new season and what they accomplished in the offseason is a big reason why the playoffs are in their sights.
Pacers' offseason additions and departures
Additions: G/F Bruce Brown (free agency – DEN), F Obi Toppin (trade – NYK), F Jarace Walker (draft), G Ben Sheppard (draft), G Isaiah Wong (draft), G Mojave King (draft)*
Departures: F Oshae Brissett (free agency – BOS), G Chris Duarte (trade – SAC)
*NOTE: Mojave King will be a draft-and-stash player for IND.
The Pacers made one of the biggest splashes in free agency by signing Bruce Brown from the Denver Nuggets. Brown, who won a championship in his first season with Denver, emerged as one of the best multi-purpose players in the entire league last year. His role with the Nuggets was undefined simply because he did a little bit of everything to help them seize their first-ever title.
Even though he is only listed at 6'4″, Brown can guard virtually any position, he's much stronger than he looks, and he is the ultimate “glue guy” in the sense that he holds things together for his team both on and off the court.
One of the biggest needs the Pacers had entering the offseason was finding ways to improve defensively. They had some problems finding consistent production out on the wing and GM Chad Buchanan made it a point of emphasis to utilize the team's cap space by adding a proven defender. This is why Indiana swooped in and gave Brown a two-year, $45 million contract. The 27-year-old swingman will now make $22 million this upcoming year after making $15 million over the last five seasons.
“The Pacers were super ecstatic about me and I was their number one choice,” Brown stated during his introductory press conference this offseason. “So it was easy.”
When you look at the best free agency signings this offseason in terms of fit, Brown has to be at the top of this list. His positivity and ability to impact the game in many ways is synonymous with that of Haliburton's abilities. Not to mention, Brown will get along just fine defensively with Turner.
Bennedict Mathurin, Aaron Nesmith and Jalen Smith are other athletic, versatile options Indiana still has on their roster, making Brown the “glue” that will hold things together.
The Pacers also added another dynamic talent this offseason by acquiring Obi Toppin from the New York Knicks. Drafted eighth overall by the Knicks in 2020, Toppin was arguably one of the most talented and athletic players in his draft class. Unfortunately, he just did not get time to showcase what he could do in New York because of Julius Randle's All-Star seasons at the power forward position.
In Indiana, Toppin will have time to develop further and being alongside Haliburton and Brown will make him a much more well-rounded player. The Pacers have been searching for a reliable option at the power forward over the last couple of seasons, which gives Toppin a chance to become one of the league's most improved players right away.
Even before the Pacers were able to add Brown and Toppin, this organization kicked off their summer with a fantastic draft. Making a handful of trades, Indiana was able to acquire future draft compensation from the Washington Wizards by moving down from the seventh overall pick to the eighth overall pick. As a result, they got their guy in Jarace Walker, a prospect the Pacers had been monitoring closely for months leading up to draft night.
Walker is a big-bodied forward who made a name for himself at Houston by guarding every position on defense. He can block shots, he can disrupt passing lanes with his 7'3″ wingspan, and Walker's big frame allowed him to do damage in the paint on offense. With a high understanding of the game and being able to play off others in pick-and-roll sets, Walker has a chance to make an impact with the Pacers from his very first game.
Walker was not the only first-round pick for the Pacers though, as they were also able to grab Ben Sheppard out of Belmont with the 26th overall pick. Sheppard, who flew up draft boards during the pre-draft process, is exactly the kind of player this organization looks for when adding depth. Between his shooting abilities and character, Sheppard will prove to be useful both on the court and in the locker room for the Pacers.
Isaiah Wong, who signed a two-way contract with the team, and Mojave King, who will spend this year developing overseas, were Indiana's two second-round picks.
Not enough good things can be said about the job this franchise did over the last couple of months. They may not have the best scorers in the league and they may not have flashy All-Stars like other teams, but the Pacers have built a strong foundation and culture for themselves. This goes a long way in building a real playoff-contending threat.
Latest on possible Buddy Hield trade
Drama does not exist within the walls of the Pacers organization. They are a very well-respected franchise and everyone on this team holds each other accountable. With this said, frustrations can mount from time to time, especially when it comes to contract situations.
Indiana spent a lot of money between giving Turner his extension in January, Haliburton his extension during the offseason, and signing Brown. The Pacers always look to reward their veterans, which is why Hield expected to be the next in line to receive an extension from the team. Even though the Pacers offered their sharpshooter a new deal as he gets set to begin the final year of his contract, this offer did not seem to sit well with Hield.
According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, extension talks between the two sides stalled out after the team's final proposal didn't make him “feel desired.” While they have taken calls from rival teams inquiring about Hield, the Pacers are not too interested in trading him and they have asked teams for a first-round pick, sources told ClutchPoints.
Right ahead of the start of training camp, Buchanan spoke to the media about Buddy's role with the team entering the 2023-24 season and he made it clear that the team wants to keep the veteran.
“I would say Buddy is someone we love having on our team. We want him on our team this year,” Buchanan stated. We'd like to have Buddy with us and we have no intention of trying to move Buddy… Our intention is to have Buddy on the team this year and have him be a big part of our group.”
Unless Indiana receives an offer that they cannot refuse, it appears as if Hield will begin the new season with the Pacers in the same role he has held the last couple of years. Since joining the Pacers in 2022, he has shot 41.0 percent from three-point range and has continued to be one of the best perimeter shooting options in the league. In fact, he trailed only Klay Thompson for the league lead in threes during the 2022-23 season.
In every sport, players ask for trades when contract situations fall apart. At the same time, most of these contract disputes eventually get figured out during the season and the two sides are able to come to an agreement.
Anything can happen with Hield as far as trades go, but it does seem like he and the Pacers will come to an agreement at some point. The organization values what he brings to the table and Hield really has no reason to leave Indiana other than his contract expiring. This is why an extension is still a plausible outcome.
2023-24 season outlook
The Pacers made the Eastern Conference Finals in back-to-back years in 2013 and 2014. Since then, they have been to the playoffs, but Indiana has not won a postseason series. Sometimes, in order to get back to being a real championship contender, you need to bring in people with championship DNA. This is what they did with Carlisle a few years back and the Pacers have once again done so with the addition of Brown.
This team has the personnel to wear any team down over the course of 48 minutes and they finally seem to have a balance between offensive and defensive talents. Brown will kind of act as the bridge between these two sides seeing as he can contribute on either end of the floor.
We know what to expect from Haliburton, Brown and even Turner, but the big question mark for the Pacers is surrounding second-year wing Bennedict Mathurin. Can the All-Rookie performer step up into a bigger role and become a high-level two-way player for this team?
Mathurin showed glimpses of his full potential last season and the future is certainly bright for him. Playing in 78 out of 82 games, Mathurin has proven that he is durable and his aggressiveness with the ball in his hands is what has the Pacers excited. If he can step up and once again be one of the team's best scoring options outside of Haliburton, possibly even in the starting lineup, Indiana will separate themselves from teams fighting for a spot in this year's play-in tournament.
On paper, the Pacers have everything they need to get back into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and they are going to be a competitive team throughout the season. Haliburton is continuing to grow as this franchise's ultimate leader and they have a lot more depth than many tend to realize. As their young players grow and gain more experience, the Pacers will establish themselves as a threat in the East.