Tyrese Haliburton is currently the only All-Star-caliber player on an ascending Indiana Pacers team that is currently tearing its way through the In-Season Tournament. "I'm gonna get you shots, I'm gonna make life easy for you, and we are going to win," Haliburton told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. He was a bit more direct in a November feature with The Ringer's Rob Mahoney.
"I play a style of basketball that people want to play," Haliburton told Mahoney. "I think that's part of the reason why they signed me to the deal they signed me to. I've got long-term stability here because they know that I can help bring people here -- not only with who I am as a basketball player, but who I am as a person."
The pitch is compelling on several levels. It revolves around Haliburton's unique offensive gifts. Haliburton creates 31.4 points per game off of assists, which isn't just the best figure in the NBA this season, but it's the best the league has ever seen during the tracking era, which dates back to the 2013-14 season.
Indiana has the most efficient offense in the NBA by a mile, but in simpler terms, they score more points than any team in the history of the league. The 128.4 points Indiana averages per game also beats out every other 21st century offense by a full 5.7 points per game. While offenses weren't always this efficient, they used to be much faster. Scoring as much as the Pacers do in an era this slow should not be possible.
Haliburton makes it possible. Like he said, he will create easy shots for whoever plays with him. That's an enticing proposition in basketball terms alone. In a stat-obsessed league, it has potentially enormous financial ramifications. You want to secure your financial future? Come play with Tyrese Haliburton. You'll put up numbers and earn hefty contracts in the process.
That contract might come sooner rather than later. For all of the talk about Philadelphia's plan to enter free agency as the only winner with max cap space, the Pacers are nearly as good and have nearly as much financial flexibility. Even with Jalen Smith's player-option accounted for, they have only around $94.5 million in salary locked in for next season against a $142 million cap. That's a max slot if the Pacers want one, but it's a looser one than Philadelphia's.
The 76ers have to spend their money by this summer because Tyrese Maxey's impending max deal will eat up all of their space. Indiana has a bit more time on its hands because Haliburton is its only significant salary. If the Pacers wanted to wait until 2025 to spend in free agency, for instance, they could freely do so with Bennedict Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard, Aaron Nesmith and Jarace Walker still locked into favorable deals.
The Pacers don't have to rush. They can wait for the right player. If that player exists this summer? By all means, go get him. Former Pacer Paul George is set to hit the market. So is former Indiana Hoosier OG Anunoby. Both play forward, Indiana's position of need. Both play stellar defense, a necessity for a team that currently ranks 28th in defense.
If neither target proves appealing or available, there's a pretty clean path to running it back next season if the Pacers want to. Bruce Brown has a $23 million team option, and T.J. McConnell has a non-guaranteed deal. That gives Indiana control over both, and while Obi Toppin is set to hit restricted free agency this summer, the Pacers could play hardball and try to get him back on the one-year qualifying offer. The expiration of Myles Turner's team-friendly deal after the 2024-25 season is the soft deadline here, but with no long-term money on the books aside from Haliburton, the Pacers are in no rush.
The best players rarely move through free agency anymore. The trade market is trickier. It makes the Pacers victims of their own promise. Unlike the Nets, Thunder, Jazz and Rockets, Indiana isn't loaded with valuable picks from other teams. Aside from a heavily-protected 2024 Thunder pick, they only have their own first-rounders to offer, and their own first-rounders, thanks to Haliburton, just aren't that valuable at the moment. Of course, that might be a solvable problem if you're willing to put four of them on the table with two or three swaps.
How problematic the Indianapolis market proves will depend on the player. It might also depend on the team's appetite for risk. Damian Lillard made plenty of noise about his Miami-or-bust edict. He seems perfectly happy in Milwaukee. Let the right player catch Haliburton's passes for a year or two and he might never want to leave.
The greater concern might be Indiana's ownership. The Pacers have the NBA's lowest payroll. They haven't paid the tax since 2006, according to Forbes, which was before it took on its more punitive form in 2011. The highest-profile acquisition in franchise history was, what, a 34-year-old Chris Mullin? Mark Jackson? Indiana has never been a particularly aggressive organization.
They're trying to change that, according to Wojnarowski. Haliburton is behind that. This is a unique opportunity for the Pacers, one they appear determined not to waste. They don't just have a young All-Star. They have a young All-Star that was practically built in a lab to recruit fellow All-Stars. Very good players are going to try to get to Haliburton's team. It's up to the Pacers to make it a reality.