Key additions: Bennedict Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard (2022 draft); Aaron Nesmith, Daniel Theis (trade).
Key subtractions: Malcolm Brogdon (trade), TJ Warren (free agency).
Last season: The Pacers were left with little choice but to jump-start rebuilding once the losses mounted. Malcolm Brogdon (only 36 games) couldn’t stay healthy, Warren never suited up and the competition in the East passed them by. So they shipped Domantas Sabonis to the Kings for Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield at midseason and took the plunge, failing to make the playoffs but landing a high lottery pick. This tested the patience of Pacers fans who have waited for a turn of events since Paul George left town.
Summer summary: Couldn’t hurt, right? That’s what the Pacers surely told themselves after becoming the most unlikely suitor for one of the summer free agent prizes, Deandre Ayton. Given their small-market realities and history of steering clear of A-list free agent hunting, the Pacers went for it, tendering a $133 million offer sheet for the Suns’ restricted free agent.
Basically, that amounted to … nothing. Everyone in the league knew Phoenix would likely match any offer and retain Ayton, the Suns did exactly that in about 10 seconds, and Indiana had zilch to show for their effort. Nice try, though.
Meanwhile, the reality of the situation is the Pacers have more work to do. They were determined to pull the trigger on at least one semi-major trade this summer involving Brogdon or Myles Turner or Hield. Whoever fetched the most return in the form of draft capital or young assets would be jettisoned. And that player was Brogdon.
His stay in Indiana was mainly disappointing, primarily because he couldn’t stay healthy. And when Brogdon was on the floor, the Pacers’ fortunes didn’t change much. So he was a strong candidate for relocation, finally landing in Boston for Theis, Nesmith and a future first-rounder.
Speaking of injury: Warren proved expendable, too, because the Pacers were unwilling to pay big for a player who missed all of last season while recovering from a navicular stress fracture and has played only four games since his breakout in the 2020 Orlando bubble. It’s too bad; Warren briefly was a primary option for Indiana before the injury and seemed he could have a long future with the club, which let him sign in free agency with the Nets.
After whiffing on Ayton, the Pacers were mentioned as a possible relocation home for Russell Westbrook, who was reportedly offered around the league by the Lakers. Nothing materialized this summer, but if Indiana ultimately becomes the landing spot for Russ, it’ll be because the Lakers offered plenty of sweeteners in the form of future picks and young players … except the Lakers still owe picks to New Orleans from the Anthony Davis deal. Are they really willing to sacrifice their future even more just to shed Russ for a year?
Nesmith is valued because he’s just 22 and his potential is still untapped. He saw plenty of bench time on the deep Celtics, playing only 98 regular season games over his two NBA seasons. He’s supposed to be a solid shooter, but again, he’ll have to prove that in Indiana.
The Pacers’ prize for winning only 25 games was the right to draft Mathurin. He’s an energetic swingman from Arizona who can, if he develops properly, be a primary option. Given where the Pacers are right now in their rebuilding, Mathurin should get decent minutes, especially if Hield is traded between now and the February deadline.
And that’s the state of the Pacers. The only player who doesn’t need to keep his bags packed, aside from Mathurin, is Haliburton. This team is in transition and therefore spending its time answering the phones and making trade proposals.
They missed out on Ayton this summer and never managed to get Russ. But don’t be surprised if the Pacers are the rare team that makes a deal during or right after training camp. When you’re locked into rebuilding and all but certain to land in the lottery again next season, nothing or no one is safe or sacred.
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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