The evolution of the Indiana Pacers: From no direction to bright future

With the Pacers making the playoffs, now is as good a time as ever to see how they got here.
Sacramento Kings v Indiana Pacers
Sacramento Kings v Indiana Pacers / Dylan Buell/GettyImages
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February 8, 2022-2023: Start of the Haliburton era

February 8, 2022, will go down as one of the most important days in Indiana Pacers franchise history. After quite a while of purgatory, no direction, and a lack of optimism for the future, the Pacers finally pulled the plug on attempting to remain competitive and started the rebuild in the best possible way.

Domantas Sabonis was playing fantastic until that point, and with his value at an all-time high, Indiana made the move of a lifetime, trading Sabonis, Justin Holiday, and Jeremy Lamb to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and Tristan Thompson.

This trade seemed like a long shot prior to it happening, as Sacramento was more keen on dealing De'Aaron Fox rather than Haliburton, who they only drafted a year prior. Nevertheless, it was exactly what Indiana needed at the time, as Haliburton was the perfect young star in the making to start their rebuild with.

His arrival essentially put a ticking clock on Malcolm Brogdon's run with Indiana, which would come to an end at the season's end. Additionally, Indiana also traded Torrey Craig back to the Phoenix Suns for young forward Jalen Smith, who they re-signed in the summer despite not being able to offer him as much.

With Haliburton at the helm, Indiana completely bottomed out the rest of the way, finishing their season 6-20 and posting a final record of 25-57, their worst record since the 1984-85 season, even before the Reggie Miller era.

This abysmal record gave the Pacers the sixth pick in the 2022 draft, which they used to select Bennedict Mathurin, and with the 31st pick they got in the LeVert trade the year prior, they selected Gonzaga guard Andrew Nembhard, both pivotal pieces to the current team Indiana has.

2022 was the year Indiana's foundation began to set for their current team, as this year marked the arrival of Haliburton, Jalen Smith, Mathurin, and Nembhard, all pivotal players in Indiana's 2024 season. Additionally, the Pacers finally parted ways with Malcolm Brogdon around this time, trading him to Boston for little-used and disregarded swingman Aaron Nesmith, another crucial cog in Indiana's current foundation.

Despite some new firepower and youth at the helm, the Pacers were not expected to do well in the 2022-23 season, as fans were hoping for a tanked season and increased odds at Victor Wembanyama. However, Haliburton and company had other plans, as Indiana posted a 23-18 record in the first half of the season.

That was good for the sixth seed in the East and far ahead of schedule, surprising many analysts and fans along the way and getting plenty of signature victories, including Bennedict Mathurin outplaying LeBron James in LA, and Andrew Nembhard's breakout game against Stephen Curry and Golden State.

Rejuvenated, and with a full offseason to practice with his new teammates, Haliburton went off, averaging 20 points and 10 assists in the first 39 games of the season while shooting 48% from the field and 40% from deep, good enough to get his first All-Star appearance of his young career.

Unfortunately, this run would not last for long, as in the following game against New York, Haliburton went down with an injury which caused him to miss the next 10 games. During this stretch, the Pacers went 1-9 and plummeted down the standings, falling to the 10th seed with a 24-28 record upon his return at the start of February.

Despite Haliburton's return, the damage had been done, and although he played quite well after injury, Indiana did not improve much and could not get back to their past success, finishing the season with a 35-47 record and heading to their third straight lottery pick.