By now, everybody on the planet, not to mention some distant constellations, knows the Pacers are looking to trade Myles Turner and Buddy Hield. Team president Kevin Pritchard won’t accept a lousy deal to move on from them — witness Indiana’s recent refusal to make a trade with the Lakers, who were offering Russell Westbrook, a first-rounder in 2027 and two second-rounders. Pritchard and the Pacers are neither desperate nor stupid.
But it’s abundantly clear by now that everybody in the Pacers organization, from owner Herb Simon on down the organizational chart, is poised to continue the complete rebuild of a franchise that has gone sideways, due in large part to the spate of injuries that beset the roster in recent years.
The Simon point is notable. Early last year, before everything fell completely apart in a 25-57 season, Simon was telling a group of five local reporters he “liked my little team” and had no interest in bottoming out before building back up. Simon, who is 87 years young, still has no burning desire to go the Oklahoma City route, but over time, he has smartly reached the conclusion that you can’t dip your toe into a rebuild, you have to dive in head-first .
He’s been spoiled. Donnie Walsh rebuilt teams without falling completely to the bottom. Larry Bird’s post-Brawl teams weren’t any good — the Troy Murphy-Mike Dunleavy era — but they were always reasonably competitive, even if it was to their detriment on draft night when they were never quite bad enough to choose in the top nine .
This time, the Pacers are using a more time-tested, more patient approach.
They traded Domantas Sabonis last year in exchange for a franchise point guard, Tyrese Haliburton, who will quickly establish himself as the team’s best point guard since Mark Jackson.
They traded Malcolm Brogdon, who just couldn’t stay healthy.
They let TJ Warren walk in free agency after he missed the better part of two seasons with foot issues.
They extended a massive offer sheet to Phoenix center Deandre Ayton, which the Suns matched. (There were attempts to pull off a sign-and-trade, but those didn’t materialize.)
Indiana knew Phoenix was likely to match — Pritchard handicapped it as a 70-30 proposition that Phoenix would keep him — but it was a worthwhile effort. And while it wasn’t done for public-relations purposes, it did serve to send a message to Indiana fans that the Pacers are ready to be players from this time forward.
The Pacers have finally embraced the process after years of taking attempted baby steps toward a rebuild. Not “The Process,” at least as we think about it with the 76ers, who are the poster children for tanking. But the process of moving off veteran players, accumulating cap space and draft assets, doing things the slow, hard … smart way. And hoping, believing, that Pacers fans, some of the smartest in the league, will embrace the team’s new direction with patience and enthusiasm.
“Two years ago, we started changing our compass,” Pritchard said. “Two years ago, specifically, in drafting and now we’ve done it in how we acquire players. And we have a unique situation where we have a bunch of good, young, up-and-coming players who will be attractive to free agents next summer. And we’re going to have even more cap space next summer.
“We’ll be aggressive to hit the marketplace whether we use our cap space at the trade deadline or before, or let it roll into next year and have massive space to sign players or trade for players.”
Cap space, though, is a risky business, especially when you’re a small-market team that is not historically known as a free-agent destination. But cap space brings other benefits, especially when you’re one of the league’s very few teams that has room to maneuver. The Pacers can accept more value than they give up, can take on other teams’ bad contracts and accumulate first-rounders. The Pacers are already poised to have two first-rounders next season (their own and Boston’s) and will get Cleveland’s first if the Cavaliers do what they’re supposed to do — and failed to do this past year, by a single game — and make the playoffs.
The way Pritchard sees it, his team is wounded with several options and the ability to pivot, even once next season gets underway.
Let’s say they surprise us next season; Bennedict Mathurin is lights out, Chris Duarte returns to form after hitting the rookie wall and then suffering an injury last season, and the youthful Pacers are actually sniffing the playoffs. (Outlandish in my humble opinion, but OK, we’ll play along.) Pritchard can then use Turner and Hield (assuming they haven’t yet been dealt) to add a piece and other assets to help them make a playoff push. Or they can use some of their first-rounders to get immediate help.
Let’s say they struggle. Again, he can use Turner/Hield (if they’re still on the roster) and add draft choices.
It’s that word that Pritchard likes to use: optionality.
The question then is, now that the Pacers have unsuccessfully pursued Ayton, what do they do about Turner in the short term?
They clearly have to move him. Are they willing to head into the season with him on the roster? Yes, they are. Is it optimal? No, it isn’t.
Does anybody really think Turner wants to sign an extension to stay in Indy beyond next season? Not me. Why would he, right? I’m figuring he wants to end up back in Texas — Dallas or San Antonio come to mind. And of course, his feelings have been bruised; not only is he a perpetual subject of trade talks, but now he’s had to sit by quietly and watch his team extend an offer sheet to another center.
I will say this about Turner, though. He’s smart and he’s a pro. He’s got his issues, to be sure: last year, he did tell Jared Weiss of The Athletic that he was dissatisfied with his role and wanted to be a greater focus of the offense. But he knows he has to stay healthy and play well if he wants to get paid a nine-figure contract next summer. He wouldn’t be human if there weren’t some hurt feelings, but let’s be honest, he should be used to it by now. Turner has the power to determine his worth after next season; sulking and brooding won’t do him any good, and he’s sharp enough to recognize that.
As for Hield, the coaches like his veteran presence and his work ethic and would be willing to carry him on the roster heading into next season, but ultimately, he’s going to get dealt. He’s 29 years old, he’s making a whole lot of money — if the Pacers can get decent value for him, they’ll make that deal tomorrow.
So stay tuned.
The Pacers are poised to turn this franchise upside-down. And it’s about time.
(Top photo of Myles Turner: David Butler II/USA Today)