Stephen Curry went nuclear. The Indiana Pacers never stood a chance. And for the first time in his NBA career, Tyrese Haliburton was without his backcourt partner, Buddy Hield.
Hours after the NBA’s trade deadline passed Thursday, one in which Hield was shipped from Indiana to Philadelphia, the Pacers hosted the Golden State Warriors at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. It was a matchup featuring two top-tier guards who will share that same court as All-Stars next week, but the only one who looked like a star was Curry.
The NBA’s 3-point king flexed his unprecedented range yet again by nailing a season-high 11 3-pointers, marking his 25th regular-season game with at least 10 made 3s. No one else in NBA history has more than nine. Curry finished with 42 points in Golden State’s wire-to-wire 131-109 victory, while Haliburton was held to a season-low five points and 11 assists.
After the game, Haliburton lamented his poor performance while reflecting on another chapter of his career that has ended: Being teammates with Hield. Their bond started during Haliburton’s rookie season in Sacramento in 2020-21 and only grew stronger when they both were traded midseason to Indiana in 2021-22.
“I’ve never played an NBA game without him, so it was definitely weird,” Haliburton said, glancing across the locker room to where Hield used to reside. “It’s gonna be weird moving forward a little bit, but that’s part of the ebb and flow of the NBA. I’m excited for him to have the opportunity to (join the 76ers), and yeah, I’m gonna miss him. But I’m sure we’re gonna go to the Bahamas together after the season. We’ll still talk every day.”
Haliburton’s disappointment over the loss and Hield’s departure were evident, but there also was a level of maturity. He didn’t use his close friend’s departure as an excuse for why he played one of his worst games of the season. Instead, he reiterated his complete trust in the Pacers front office.
One of those front office members, general manager Chad Buchanan, spoke to the media after Thursday’s game. Here’s what he had to say about trading Hield and the $19.3 million left on his expiring contract, previously trading for Pascal Siakam and how Haliburton has influenced the franchise’s decisions.
What made now the time (to move on from Hield)? Obviously, you know that he’s got an expiring contract, but what made this the best collective move if you felt you had to part ways with him?
Buchanan: We’re trying to maximize this season. Our team’s done a great job of getting us in a position to be a contender for a playoff spot. We don’t want to diminish that, but as a front office, we always have to be looking to the next step. We want to put ourselves in a position to be good for a long time, and so … the decision we made with Buddy was more made for thinking a little bit down the road, but as we also didn’t want to hurt our team too much. That’s why bringing back Doug (McDermott), we feel like, replaces a lot of things that Buddy brought from a shooting standpoint.
Analysis: After the dust settled Thursday, the Pacers were officially involved in a three-team trade with the Philadelphia 76ers and San Antonio Spurs that sent Hield to Philadelphia. Indiana received McDermott, Furkan Korkmaz (waived), a 2024 second-round pick (via Toronto), a 2029 second-round pick (via Portland) and cash from the Sixers. San Antonio landed Marcus Morris Sr., a 2029 second-round pick (via the LA Clippers) and cash from the Pacers. Indiana also traded its 2024 second-round pick to the Warriors in exchange for Cory Joseph (waived), a 2025 second-round pick (via Charlotte) and cash.
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In simpler terms, Indiana essentially offloaded Hield for McDermott, a second-round pick and cash instead of letting Hield potentially leave in free agency for nothing. However, I’m not sure Indiana got much better (or worse) in the short term or long term. Buchanan is correct that McDermott, a career 41.2 percent 3-point shooter, should offset some of the loss of Hield’s shooting ability. But McDermott is on an expiring contract, too, and it’s worth noting the significant difference in volume.
Over the last six seasons, nobody in the NBA has made more 3s than Hield and that includes one of the greatest shooters ever, Curry. Re-signing McDermott should be cheaper than re-signing Hield if the Pacers choose to go that route. Perhaps that’s a factor with Haliburton’s max contract extension kicking in next season, and Indiana looking to re-sign impending free agent Siakam to a max deal.
There’s always the possibility Hield asked to be traded after seeing his role diminish this season. I asked Buchanan if that was the case, and he declined to say whether it was Hield or the team that suggested a trade. We won’t get a definitive answer unless Hield tells us himself, but either way, his now former teammates spoke glowingly of his time in Indiana.
“His energy is infectious,” said Myles Turner, the Pacers’ longest-tenured player. “It’s something that we’ll be missing. We’ll have to make it up somehow, some way. It doesn’t start with just one person. It’s a group effort. He’ll be missed. He’s probably gonna go down as one of the best shooters in history.”
Trading for Siakam and trying to retain him
How much of a sense did you have about whether (Siakam) was going to keep an open mind about re-signing beyond this season?
Buchanan: That’s a big part of a trade. You trade for somebody because you want them to be here long term. We’re limited on some of the things that we can do with that, but the goal when we attained him was to have him be a long-term piece for us. That’s still the goal, and he’s been a great fit so far. I think he’s happy so far. We’re happy with him, so it’s going to be a relationship-building part here. We’re only (12) games in, so he’s still getting to know us, and we’re still getting to know him a little bit. But (we’re) very optimistic about him being a big piece of our team moving forward.
Analysis: Last month, the Pacers traded Bruce Brown Jr., Jordan Nwora, two 2024 first-round picks and a conditional 2026 first-round pick to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Siakam. To make all of the salaries match, Indiana also struck a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans, acquiring Kira Lewis and then rerouting him to Toronto in exchange for a 2024 second-pick from the Pacers and cash.
None of the Pacers’ future first-round picks are projected to be in the lottery, so from my perspective, it makes perfect sense for a small-market team like the Pacers to swing big on a two-time All-NBA wing. Those players have never picked the Pacers in free agency, and the likelihood of any of those mid-to-late-first-round picks becoming a player of Siakam’s caliber is extremely unlikely.
The obvious risk in trading for a player on an expiring contract is whether or not they will stay. Siakam, 29, has spoken glowing about the Pacers since he arrived, and he even said he wants to “make this home” after notching a triple-double in his home debut Jan. 25. While nothing is guaranteed, based off Siakam’s tight relationship with Raptors president Masai Ujiri, I believe it’s safe to say Ujiri has too much respect for Siakam to trade him to a team he didn’t see a long-term future with.
Haliburton’s unselfish and push-the-pace style folds right into Siakam’s prowess in transition and positional versatility, which has also helped Indiana take a step forward defensively. The chemistry of the Pacers’ top two players will be vital toward a playoff push later this season and Buchanan’s goal of “contending for championships” in the years to come.
“He’s a champion. He’s got a lot of experience under his belt,” Buchanan said. “ … Pascal takes us to another level, but we’ve got more work to do building this roster and developing some of these young players. But I do feel like adding Pascal to this group has kind of elevated us to maybe the next step. We’ve just gotta find more pieces to put with this group.”
Another significant factor that Buchanan and Siakam haven’t publicly mentioned is the money, which can never be overlooked. By inheriting Siakam’s Bird rights, the Pacers can offer him a five-year max deal worth up to $245 million this summer. The most another team could offer him is a four-year deal worth up to $182 million. Needless to say, even for a player who will have already earned $143.2 million in his career, a difference of $63 million in his next contract is something Siakam will consider.
Haliburton’s influence on decision-making
How much has Tyrese Haliburton changed the Pacers’ team-building decisions, particularly because of the jump he made this year from being an All-Star to arguably an All-NBA caliber talent?
Buchanan: Tyrese is our foundational player, and I hope he’s here for a long, long time. I hope he retires a Pacer. He has changed our thinking a little bit. Some of it is his style of play. It changes the type of players that you’re looking to put around him, but also his elevation of where he’s taken our team in such a short amount of time. … We want to have some young guys developing, but we also gotta have some veterans who are helping us win now because this team has shown that we can be competitive with the very best teams in the league.
Analysis: I will never forget sitting in the Pacers’ news conference room at Gainbridge Fieldhouse two years ago and hearing team president Kevin Pritchard compare Haliburton to former Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Manning has a statue outside of Lucas Oil Stadium, and Luck was on a Hall of Fame trajectory as well before abruptly retiring in 2019. I thought Pritchard was delusional, not because I didn’t think Haliburton could become a star, but to compare him to those guys about an hour before his Pacers debut seemed outlandish and unfair.
On Thursday, I was back in that same press room thinking how Pritchard and Co. deserve a ton of credit for seeing Haliburton’s potential before the rest of the NBA did. How many teams would go back in time and make steeper offers if they knew Haliburton would have this kind of ascension?
He’s been a two-time All-Star through his first two full seasons in Indiana, which is currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Before his left hamstring strain last month, it’s not a stretch to say Haliburton was arguably the best point guard in the NBA. Perhaps Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who coached Haliburton and Team USA in the World Cup last summer, saw this coming.
“He’s got a joy about him that’s infectious and reminds me a little bit of Steph,” Kerr said in his pregame news conference. “There’s a beautiful combination of humility and confidence/cockiness. … It’s something that is important because the guys have faith that he’s gonna make the right play every time down. They have faith that he’s gonna lead their team to victory, and then he’s also a humble and wonderful person to be around every day.
“That kind of combination is pretty powerful.”
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said the Siakam trade wouldn’t have been possible without Haliburton, who is averaging 22.1 points and a league-high 11.7 assists per game. Now that Haliburton and Siakam have been paired in Indiana, it could crack the door open for another star player and a few high-end role players to come join them. As the unofficial host of All-Star weekend in Indianapolis, Haliburton said his schedule is jam-packed with appearances and events, which could serve as a great opportunity to network with other stars and potentially woo them to consider the Pacers as their next destination.
Haliburton joked that he isn’t Jackie Moon from the movie “Semi-Pro.” So, while his voice is heard in all of the Pacers’ team-building decisions, including the Hield trade, he doesn’t have the final say on personnel and doesn’t want that burden.
The 23-year-old just wants to get fully healthy and win, because winning now could help the Pacers win even bigger later.
“If we can get into a playoff situation and Ty is our leader and playing with the pace we play and the confidence he exudes and puts into other players, that kind of elevates us to want to be good a little quicker than we anticipated,” Buchanan said. “But we also don’t want to skip steps along the way.”
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(Photo of Buchanan: James Boyd / The Athletic)