30 Teams in 30 Days | 2023

30 teams in 30 days: Young Pacers look to take step toward playoffs

With All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton leading the way, Indiana aims to climb out of the middle of the pack in the East.

Myles Turner and Tyrese Haliburton will look to power the Pacers back to the playoffs for the 1st time since 2020.

Key additions

  • G Bruce Brown (free agent), G Ben Sheppard (draft), F Jarace Walker (draft), F Obi Toppin (trade)

Key Subtraction

  • G Chris Duarte

Last season 

It was seven months of “meh” for the Pacers, who were mired in mediocrity, a painful place to be. They weren’t good enough to make the playoffs and yet also not bad enough for a realistic shot at landing Victor Wembanyama. So, the reality was Indiana received essentially nothing for winning 35 games … or for losing 47. As is the case with these situations, there was good and not so good. Tyrese Haliburton was definitely the former. He established himself as one of the best point guards in the league by finishing as the NBA runner-up in assists and making the All-Star team.

Center Myles Turner was finally removed from the trade rumor mill with a decent season (18 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game) and a contract extension. Also, Benedict Mathurin was the league’s top rookie for the first two months before hitting a wall. Otherwise, the Pacers were the picture of inconsistency, both in terms of player and team performance, and entered the summer looking for a way out of no-man’s land.

Summer summary

If you can’t win a championship, then bring a championship mentality to the team. That mission was accomplished when the Pacers stole Bruce Brown from the Nuggets, who were in no position to re-sign the free agent swingman.

So their loss was Indy’s gain — and Brown’s, too. He couldn’t get a decent free-agent contract the previous summer when the money dried up, so the Nuggets had him at a bargain rate last season, and he was among the best values ($7 million) in basketball. This time, someone had to pay, and it was Indiana, giving him two years and $45 million — a reasonable price for an energetic player who can create and defend.

Indiana also added to the front line through the Draft, using their lottery pick in Walker, a bullish 6-foot-8 forward who two years ago was one of the best prep players in his class. If his transition to the NBA is quick, Walker can compete for decent minutes at power forward against another one of Indiana’s offseason pickups: Toppin.

The Knicks soured on Toppin, the No. 8 pick in 2020, rather quickly and gave him away (for a pair of second-rounders), which is never a good sign. Toppin struggled to get playing time in New York for two glaring reasons: he couldn’t create his own shot and didn’t play defense well enough for coach Tom Thibodeau. Other than being a tremendous dunker, there wasn’t much else Toppin showed that would command big minutes. He can still develop his skills, but he is 25 and won’t get a rookie extension next summer if he struggles this season.

GM Chad Buchanan explains how improving the team's defense shaped the Pacers' offseason moves.

Speaking of rookie extensions … the Pacers didn’t hesitate to open the wallet for Haliburton, who got the max. This was great not only for the player but for the franchise. Indiana is a small market and not a free-agent magnet, therefore it’s crucial for the franchise to draft players, develop them and then keep them by any means necessary. They didn’t draft Haliburton, but made a trade with Sacramento in 2022 that helped both teams. The Kings got an All-Star center in Domantas Sabonis and the Pacers have the point guard position secured at least for the next five years.

One draft pick that didn’t develop was Duarte who, after initially impressing the Pacers (he was an All-Rookie second team pick in 2021-22), hit a skid, lost his spot to Buddy Hield and soon fell out of the rotation. He also was an old rookie (now 26) and the prevailing feeling inside the organization was that he peaked. He was swapped for a pair of second-rounders from the Kings.

Indiana used another first-rounder on Sheppard, who brings size to the guard position. Will he be good enough to make Hield expendable at the trade deadline?

The Pacers kept and used both of their first-rounders because they’re searching for big-time talent to groom and place next to Haliburton. Indiana still doesn’t have a superstar in uniform, but the search continues. Meanwhile, they merely want to take the next step — up from the middle of the pack and into the playoffs.

Up next: Cleveland Cavaliers | Previously: LA Clippers

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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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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