The Indiana Pacers are entering yet another offseason in which nobody can guess what type of moves they will make. Will there finally be a solid direction for this oft-directionless franchise?
The foundation is strong. A basketball city, in a basketball state, hosting a storied franchise that is borderline unhateable by your average NBA viewer.
This position of comfort, however, has been a precarious position for the Indiana Pacers in the recent past and is at risk of continuing to be so in the near future.
Since their trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014, the Pacers missed the playoffs entirely the following season, traded their star player, Paul George, for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis (an elite package, in hindsight) and went on to get knocked out in the first round for the next five consecutive seasons.
Although this could technically be sold as a cut above the horrid treadmill of mediocrity, the Pacers’ penchant for selling some tickets, winning some games and never maximising their roster talent made me want to pull my hair out.
Before you mock; I had some hair back then.
Trust their owner and billionaire real estate mogul, Herb Simon, to sit on his asset and have it create value organically for him as everything else has in his life. Convenient.
The complete and utter lack of pressure to provide anything more than a decent squad and more than 41 wins has given Pacers president of basketball operations, Kevin Pritchard, one of the cushiest jobs in the NBA.
This offseason, however, the tide may finally be turning.
The Pacers are coming off two genuine losing seasons in a row. As in, they actually tried to lose this time. With the team trending towards a winning season when star guard Tyrese Haliburton went down injured in January, the Pacers brass pivoted to a full-scale tank, opting to rack up lottery balls rather than compete for the Play-In.
Now conflicting reports are being released by NBA heavy hitters Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst. Stein announced that the Pacers may be looking to trade up from pick seven on draft night. They might be targeting Alabama prospect, Brandon Miller. Windhorst, via The Hoop Collective, has cited rumours stating that the Pacers are looking to trade out of their pick for a high-level wing player.
Trading for a wing will help solidify what is currently a mediocre roster, potentially creating a three-headed attack comprised of Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin and the hypothetical wing. Great, in theory. In practice, it feels like more of the same from the franchise that seeks out first-round playoff ticket sales.
Trading up in the draft however? That would be new.
The Pacers roster is not exactly asset rich. Players like Myles Turner and Buddy Hield have value on any NBA roster, and would likely net the franchise some decent player or draft compensation in return, assuming Pritchard is looking for either of those things in a trade for his two most trade-rumoured players.
Either Hield or Turner on a win-now Portland Trail Blazers roster would be a great starting point for moving up to steal their third pick. Any other sweeteners should be available if necessary.
A lose-now trade for the Pacers will thrust them into the 21st century. Seeking value from draft compensation, building from the youthful and genuine talents they have on their roster already may mimic the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers of the 2010s.
After two iterations of get-good, stay-good Pacers rosters that topped out as overachievers, maybe now is the time for a genuine crack at something new and refreshing.
Tyrese Haliburton is an elite leader, well-liked by all in the NBA cognoscenti and is a damn good basketball player, flirting with an All-NBA selection before his season-ending injury. Mathurin is an explosive young guard with great two-way potential and a perfect running mate for Haliburton. Outside of these two, it is fair game.
This is why the draft, and the greater tank at large, is so enticing.
Can the 6’9” Brandon Miller become the third star? Will the Pacers allow Mathurin to shine next to Haliburton with significant game time as a true starter?
Or will they continue to roll out a 41-41 roster with Turner and Hield, potentially stunting the growth of their youth for a bit of cash in the owner’s pocket?
A win-now trade is not a death sentence by any means. Last year’s Pacers were very good with Haliburton at the helm, and a strong wing presence can shore up a major roster weakness, but it does feel like much of a muchness at this point.
The Pacers need to stop reaching at what’s in front of them and start reaching for the stars.
There are options aplenty for Pritchard. Will he follow old, safe, stale trends or will he finally take the necessary leap into the unknown?