The Indiana Pacers are having their moment in the sun. After years of mediocrity, the franchise that pushed the LeBron James-led Miami Heat to six games twice and seven games once in three consecutive playoffs is finally back in the national spotlight. And driving everything the Pacers do is Tyrese Haliburton.
Tyrese Haliburton has the Pacers flying high
The modern incarnation of Steve Nash, Haliburton is pushing what was thought possible on the offensive side of the ball. The Pacers’ 123.3 offensive rating is the highest in history and is the second-highest relative to the league average since 2000-01 by only 0.04 points per 100 possessions to the 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks, who had Steve Nash.
In fact, if you look at every team in the top 10 All-time in relative offensive efficiency, this season’s Pacers stand out like a sore thumb. Their defense is by far the worst, and they’re the only team without a second All-Star caliber player.
(As an aside, maybe Steve Nash deserved those two MVPs because he’s on six of these teams)
Haliburton isn’t a one-man army leading the Pacers’ offense, but no single player in the 21st century has ever been able to carry a unit to the heights he has. If the Pacers want more than a moment in the Sun, they need to surround Haliburton with another star, and there’s no better sales pitch than the man responsible for getting them buckets making their case.
NBA stars recruiting other stars has become part and parcel and Haliburton has already enthusiastically embraced the process. It is an unwritten job requirement, and those who forego it, pay the ultimate price. Is it fair that the player carrying a team also has to carry the front office? Absolutely not, but the desire to win championships will drive players to get calves’ blood injected into joints and, gasp, form superteams.
The Pacers have a first-team All-NBA caliber player in Tyrese Haliburton and can now start thinking about how to take the next step. Unfortunately for Haliburton, that means sliding into some DMs and trying to recruit his next running mate. These are the three best available free agents in 2024 and 2025, and three trade candidates to help the Pacers secure their first NBA title.
Pacers summer 2024 cap space
In the summer of 2024, the Pacers are projected to have $36.9 million in practical cap space and can open up a maximum of $42.9 million in space without trading anyone.
Summer 2024 target No. 3: Pascal Siakam
Pascal Siakam, stylistically, is not the perfect fit next to Haliburton, but his skill set is. He’s a playmaking power forward who can handle his own on defense, get baskets in isolation, and fill in just about any gaps a lineup has. Last season, he was one of four players to average over 24 points, seven rebounds, and five assists per game. The other three were Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Luka Doncic.
While Siakam isn’t on the level of those three, it illustrates just how unique a player he is. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer and is young enough to help the Pacers win throughout the life of his deal. He also offers the Pacers a chance to play super fast as their center, and while those lineups would bleed points, they may literally break the scoreboard.
Summer 2024 target No. 2: OG Anunoby
OG Anunoby has a $19.9 million player option for the 2024-25 season that he will not exercise unless he suffers a significant injury. He’s the quintessential 3-and-D wing and would be the perfect fit next to Haliburton. For as great as Haliburton is, he’s not a strong defender, but Anunoby would help tremendously on that end, he led the league in steals last season and has shot 38.6 percent from 3 over the past five.
The bidding for Anunoby will be fierce if he hits free agency, but the Pacers have a ton of cap space and can offer him a unique situation. While most teams will be looking at him as a third offensive option at best, the Pacers and Haliburton could sell him as the second option in one of the most hospitable environments imaginable.
Anunoby makes all the sense in the world next to Haliburton, but he does next to just about any star. He’s a plug-and-play 3-and-D star in a league starved for that archetype. As much as the Pacers need Haliburton to make pitches to the best players in the league, he needs the Pacers to put their money where his mouth is.
Summer 2024 target No. 1: Paul George
Paul George’s impending free agency is an interesting storyline to follow. He has a $48.8 million player option for 2024 and turns 34 on May 2. He is at the backend of his prime and will have to be very calculated with his options. If he wants the largest guarantee and most years, he’ll likely have to settle for a lower annual salary, but if he wants to keep making close to $50 million in the short term, he may have to take a shorter deal or even opt-in.
If George does decide to opt out and test free agency, then a reunion with the Pacers should be on the table. He finished third in MVP voting in 2018-19 playing next to a playmaking point guard in an uptempo offense, and Haliburton fits that description to a tee. His spot-up shooting, shot-making, and defense would all be a massive boost for the Pacers, and it would allow him to go back to where his career began.
Enough time has passed that any bad blood between the two should be water under the bridge, and the most playoff success he had was with the Pacers. There was a time when Playoff-P wasn’t a joke, and it was his time with the Pacers.
George is still excellent, but he’s at the stage of his career where playing next to a young dynamic creator is the best way for him to maximize his longevity. He can’t physically handle the burden of carrying an offense for 82 games, and he won’t have to next to Haliburton.
Pacers summer 2025 cap space
The Pacers are in a position where if they strike out in the summer of 2024, they can easily come back the next offseason ready to pounce. In the summer of 2025, the Pacers are projected to have $93.3 million in practical cap space. The figure will likely shrink over the course of the next year, but opening up enough to have a max slot remains very doable.
Summer 2025 target No. 3: Aaron Gordon
Aaron Gordon wouldn’t be a sexy addition, but he’d be so functional it wouldn’t matter. He is the perfect power forward to play next to Haliburton. He can defend multiple positions, is a credible enough 3-point shooter, and would feast on cuts to the basket. Imagine Obi Toppin, if Obi Toppin was better at everything.
He has a $23.8 million player option for 2025-26 which is likely to be declined. He’ll likely look for a raise in line with salary cap inflation, but his main goal should be locking down years. Gordon won’t cost a max contract, which would give the Pacers a chance to add another star.
The worst thing the Pacers could do is overpay for a great player that doesn’t raise their ceiling enough to challenge for a title. Gordon shouldn’t do that, and he’s the perfect third player next to two real stars.
Summer 2025 target No. 2: Brandon Ingram
Brandon Ingram isn’t the most natural fit next to Haliburton, but his age profile and talent level are right where the Pacers should be looking. He’s an All-Star caliber wing who doesn’t turn 27 until next September.
At this point, Ingram is who is. He’ll score around 23 points per game on solid efficiency and chip in five rebounds and assists. Playing next to Haliburton his scoring could tick up, but he would offer the Pacers an excellent change of pace when their uptempo attack gets stuck in first gear.
The value in adding Ingram is taking some of the offensive burden off of Haliburton’s plate, but he doesn’t solve their defensive issues. The Pacers should set their sights a bit higher than Ingram, but if all he costs is cap space, then he’s a perfect fine fallback plan.
Summer 2025 target No. 1: Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell doesn’t solve the Pacers’ most pressing need, but he just might make them so dangerous on offense it wouldn’t matter. The goal of basketball is to outscore your opponent, and an offense helmed by Haliburton and Mitchell would be unstoppable.
Mitchell has averaged 27.0 points per game over the past four seasons on league-average efficiency and has quietly become a strong playmaker. His defense isn’t a plus, but with him and Haliburton pushing the offense, the Pacers could surround them with more defensive-oriented players without suffering on the offensive end.
The real question is would Mitchell want to go to Indiana and team up with Haliburton? A New York native, he has spent his career in Salt Lake City and Cleveland. While a tour of middle America sounds like your seventh favorite summer vacation idea, it might not have a ton of career appeal to Mitchell.
However, basketball players want to win and have funning doing it, and there might not be a more attractive option for Mitchell than Indiana. This is a situation where Haliburton’s recruiting will be critical. He’ll have to sell Mitchell on their chemistry being more valuable than living in a city that people come from all over the world to visit.
Pacers star trade prospects
Let’s be honest, the Pacers are going to have a hard time attracting anyone in free agency. Indianapolis is not a destination and they’re notoriously frugal. However, targeting players through trade may be their best ticket to landing Haliburton a co-star. They have all of their upcoming first-round picks and an additional pick in the 2024 draft.
Trade target No. 3: Rudy Gobert
A Rudy Gobert trade isn’t as outlandish as it sounds. The Timberwolves are facing a salary crisis this offseason and almost have to trade one of their highest earners. While Karl-Anthony Towns is usually the player on the move, why would the Timberwolves trade a 28-year-old star so they can pair a 22-year-old Anthony Edwards with a 31-year-old Rudy Gobert? The reasonable answer is they shouldn’t, but because of the massive cost to trade for Gobert, moving him for a fraction of that is considered non-tenable.
Here’s the thing, that’s silly. You made a bad trade for Gobert so now you can’t trade him? The Wolves should absolutely consider moving Gobert if it means keeping Towns. And because of his salary and age, his price should be right for the Pacers.
Tyrese Haliburton is a maestro in the pick-and-roll and Gobert is one the best rim runners in the world. The tandem could take both of their games to new levels on offense, and defensively Gobert is still one of the best in the business.
No one is going to throw a parade for trading for Rudy Gobert, but he makes a ton of sense for a Pacers team trying to get to the next level. If they’re able to keep Myles Turner, then they can package him for another upgrade as well.
Trade target No. 2: Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr is a key part of the Denver Nuggets and isn’t likely to be shopped this season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be shopped ever. He’s a good player who has a tertiary offensive role and will make $40.8 million in 2026-27. There’s a world where the Nuggets look at their contract situation and decide they need to move someone, and that someone isn’t going to Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
While Porter is overpaid for his role in Denver, in Indiana his salary would make a lot more sense. With a steady supply of kick outs from Haliburton, Porter could ramp his 3-point volume into an elite territory and become the 25-point-per-game scorer his talent suggests he is capable of.
It’s unlikely Denver will broach this idea soon, but Jamal Murray is a free agent in 2025 and Jokic will be making over $50 million. The new CBA is designed to destroy dynasties with economics and Michael Porter Jr. could be a cap casualty.
Trade target No. 1: Mikal Bridges
Mikal Bridges is the perfect co-star to pair with Tyrese Haliburton. He’s young, a defensive monster, and has had tremendous success on and off the ball. In Phoenix, as a third option, he was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate with insane offensive efficiency, and in Brooklyn, as the primary option, he’s a 25-point-per-game scorer on league-average efficiency.
Playing next to Haliburton he’d likely split the difference as a plus defender averaging 20 points per game on above-league-average efficiency. A nucleus of Haliburton, Bridges, and Myles Turner might be a step below championship contender, but they’d have a chance to make deep playoff runs.
Unfortunately, Bridges is unlikely to be traded, and if he is, it will be for a massive amount. His contract is comically low and runs through 2025-26, which makes him one of the most valuable trade chips in the league. The Pacers may have the resources to pull it off, but it would leave them little ammunition to make additional moves.