The NBA’s trade deadline comes on Thursday, and many transactions typically come in within a few days of the deadline itself. Last year, 10 trades were done on the day of the deadline, and 17 came within a week of the time limit.
So far this season, only one deal has taken place within the week of the deadline. There are many unique factors impacting the trade market this season, and one of them is that some bigger trades happened earlier in the season — James Harden, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam have already switched teams.
Siakam’s new team, the Indiana Pacers, will be an interesting one to monitor in the next few days ahead of the trade deadline. They currently sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and their deal for Siakam suggests that they are trying to make a push for the 2024 postseason. It’s a signal that the team could look for upgrades if they are available at the right cost.
On the other hand, the Pacers still have a younger roster, and their front office preached a long-term vision before the current season. “I would say I wouldn’t want to put a win total or an ultimate goal for this season. I think we’re trying to continue to look long-term,” general manager Chad Buchanan said in September. “I think our coaches want to win, obviously, our players want to win. Us as a front office, we’ve got to balance the long-term outlook.”
Buchanan did say that as the season develops, Indiana’s front office will know what the team can do. Clearly, their solid start and In-Season Tournament run made team brass believe that it was the right time to pursue upgrades, and now the roster has Siakam. They also still have a rotation with four players — Tyrese Haliburton, Aaron Nesmith, Obi Toppin, and Bennedict Mathurin — on rookie scale deals, and both Jalen Smith and Andrew Nembhard are young and play in every game. It’s rare that a team can be where the Pacers are, in the middle of developing and winning.
But that reality is what makes the Pacers upcoming trade deadline so hard to predict. They are over the salary cap and will be going forward, so making smart, calculated moves is a must. Do they want to get better now? Do they want to find more assets that can be a part of a larger move in the future? What other considerations matter for a team that may have to think about the luxury tax next season? These are questions that the Pacers could answer with their actions this week.
“A lot of times, great things can happen at the trade deadline,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said on Tuesday. “It’s part of the business.”
There are two main factors that guide the discussions about Indiana’s transactional thinking — their expiring contracts and their surplus of frontcourt talent. Those are perhaps the things that could lead to changes for the blue and gold more than any pursuit of upgrades or tweaks.
In terms of expiring contracts, the Pacers have two players who are in different positions. One of them is Buddy Hield, the sweet-shooting two guard who is a threat to defenses from beyond the arc. His cap hit right now is nearly $19.3 million, but he will become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Once the trade deadline passes, Indiana loses all control over their future with Hield, his production, and his salary slot even if they have methods to possibly retain him.
Obi Toppin is the other Pacer on an expiring contract. His salary is $6.8 million this season, but he will be a restricted free agent this summer. If Indiana wants to keep him, they will be able to via the right of first refusal they would get by extending Toppin a qualifying offer, which currently projects to be a one-year, $7.7 million agreement. They could negotiate a different contract afterwards if they are so inclined.
Jalen Smith has a $5.4 million player option for 2024-25, and he has been excellent in his role this season, so he could be considered an expiring contract as well, though that isn’t a certainty.
If the Pacers continue to think long-term by balancing present-day success with development, moving their expiring agreements for future value makes some sense. But the franchise is clearly going for the postseason now in some way after trading for Siakam. Can they find a deal to get future and present value for their expiring deals? Is that even worth it? It’s possible that Toppin and Hield’s production for the rest of the ongoing campaign is worth more to the blue and gold than anything they’re offered in a trade.
The team from Indianapolis also has a crowded frontcourt to manage, both now and going forward. With Siakam in the Circle City and starting at power forward, the Pacers have him, Aaron Nesmith, and Myles Turner opening games. Toppin and Smith essentially play every night behind them. That leaves no playing time for Isaiah Jackson — a first-round pick in 2021 who has played well this season — and Jarace Walker, a recent lottery pick that Indiana is high on.
Who do the Pacers value the most long-term of that group? Who has the most trade value right now? What value does a player have to Indiana who isn’t playing in games? These are all questions the Indiana front office will have to answer to sort out their frontcourt situation. Perhaps they want to bring Walker along slowly, but Smith and Jackson are both ready for minutes at the backup five spot today. Maybe Indiana considers a move there, but they don’t have too.
As it stands, the Pacers have three second-round draft picks in the 2024 NBA Draft. Right now, though, those would all be later picks at 49, 54, and 55. Indiana won’t have three open roster spots next season — though they could draft two-way contract players there — so they could look to use those picks to be clever in the coming days.
With Indiana in a tight financial situation, perhaps the cheap nature of second round picks will be valuable to them. Maybe they want to grab two-way contract players they like. Perhaps they could try to do what they did on draft night in 2022 and package two late second-round picks with two future second rounders to move up in the draft — they chose Andrew Nembhard with pick 31 that year.
There are a lot of options with draft capital, but Indiana may look at their pick situation now as something they need to think about ahead of the trade deadline.
The Pacers direction as well as their tax concerns, expiring contracts, crowded frontcourt, and late draft picks will define the team’s trade deadline. They don’t have to sort out any or all of those factors right now. But their next steps, and their urgency when it comes to winning right now, will be known soon.
“There’s a lot of different decisions there as far as what Indiana’s faced with,” former Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager Bobby Marks said of the Pacers ahead of the trade deadline.
Indiana already made their big move. With several other factors at play, now they will consider important tweaks.