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Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers will rebuild around Tyrese Haliburton (Photo: Aaron Gash/AP)

NBA 2022 Off-season Guide: Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers will rebuild around Tyrese Haliburton (Photo: Aaron Gash/AP)

For the longest time, the modus operandi of the Indiana Pacers has been to compete at all costs. In the 31 years between the 1990 and 2021 seasons, the Pacers have won on average a tick over 45 games, never dropping below 32 wins in any one campaign. Indiana only missed out on post-season play on six occasions through that span. They’ve made a finals appearance as well as a few conference finals. Aside from that one dream run under the tutelage of the great Larry Bird, the Pacers have never felt like genuine contenders, though.

Despite drafting only once in the top ten in 31 years, the Pacers continually made astute choices with their earlyish – Paul George (10th overall), Dale Davis (13th), Al Harrington (25th), Danny Granger (17th), Myles Turner (11th) to name a few – as well as finding gems later in the draft like Lance Stephenson (40th), Fred Hoiberg (52nd) and Antonio Davis (45th). They were also smart in free agency, spending their money wisely as a mid market franchise.

This season, for the first time in decades, the Pacers finally decided to play for the future, trading All-Star Domantas Sabonis for a package that centred on a young potential star in Tyrese Haliburton and moving Caris LeVert for a 1st round pick.

The result was and is a change for the Pacers. The ‘was’: a 25 win campaign, the team’s worst result since 1985. The ‘is’: the most roster, draft and cap flexibility the Pacers have had for many a year.

How will Indiana’s front office use this opportunity? Let’s take a look.

The Roster

Let’s be clear: this isn’t a full burn-it-to-the-ground rebuild. There is still considerable talent on this roster. Myles Turner is, when healthy, a 26 year old perennial All Defense candidate with a sweet outside stroke. The aforementioned Haliburton is already a gem of a player who surely has multiple All Star appearances in his future. Malcolm Brogdon is a fine combo guard who is smack bang in the middle of his prime. They’re all excellent building blocks.

Indiana also has interesting young players and younger veterans in Buddy Hield, Chris Duarte, Goga Bitadze, Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Smith. TJ Warren remains – in theory – a solid, big two way wing. Albeit one who never takes to the court.

Team Needs

Indiana’s guard rotation is solid and potentially excellent. Haliburton is a star in the making and has the perfect mentor in Brogdon, who could also fetch a pretty penny in the trade market. Hield and Duarte are ace shooters – Hield especially – who are both potential starters on a good team. Like Brogdon, Hield would be a welcome addition to a playoff team’s rotation, potentially bringing in further draft capital.

In the middle, Turner is the main man. With Sabonis out of the way, he will get his chance to prove himself a legitimate two-way star, rather than just a defensively dominant stretch five. The Pacers are also blessed with two solid young backups in Stewart and Bitadze. Again, one of those could be moved on for future assets.

On the wings, however, the Pacers are wafer thin. Given the exit of Sabonis and the perennially crocked status of Warren, the Pacers could do with some immediate help at both forward positions. Terry Taylor and Oshae Brissett are interesting low end prospects, though neither will likely ever start for a good NBA team.

The Cap Sheet

The Pacers will hold around $93 million in guaranteed salary next season, before taking in any potential extensions for Warren (a possibility, though at a far smaller number that the $19 million he raked in this season) or Ricky Rubio (unlikely).

Pacers General Manager Kevin Pritchard could create as much as $25 million in space by renouncing all of the team’s free agents and foregoing their mid-level exception, though, given the Pacers are looking to build through the draft and are not a traditional free agency hot bed, that should really not come into play.

The Draft

Indiana hold their own 1st round pick – currently slated to be the 5th pick – in the upcoming draft, though they also have possession of Houston’s 2nd rounder which will slot in at #31 on draft night. In addition, they have their own 2nd rounder, pick 35.

With what is more than likely to be their highest draft selection since taking Rik Smits all the way back in 1988, the Pacers will have an excellent chance get the potential star forward that they so desperately need.

If the Pacers decide to replace Sabonis then look for them to draft Iowa’s Keegan Murray, who could be the sort of modern power forward that would give Turner space to operate down low, or himself work in the paint to let Turner spread the floor.

Alternatively, Indiana could cut ties with Warren and draft a wing. In that case expect them to take AJ Griffin out of Duke, a clever two way wing who can already shoot the lights out.

This article also appears at leading independent media site FOOTYOLOGY.

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