Tyrese Haliburton falling to them at the No. 12 pick in the 2020 NBA draft was one of the best things that has happened to the Kings in a long time.
Haliburton is already a good player. His shooting and basketball intelligence have translated as hoped, and he’s better than expected with the ball in his hands. The 21-year-old can improve even further.
But Sacramento is trading him.
- Kings get: Domantas Sabonis, Justin Holiday, Jeremy Lamb, 2027 second-round pick
- Pacers get: Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Tristan Thompson
Sabonis is a good player. A two-time All-Star, in fact. That recognition raises his appeal to teams interested in marketing, not just actually building a winner.
But whether Sabonis actually deserves the “star” title is in the eye of the beholder. I wouldn’t have picked him as an All-Star in 2020. I wouldn’t have picked him as an All-Star last year, even as the injury replacement he was.
If Sabonis didn’t carry the “two-time All-Star” label, it’s worth wondering whether Sacramento makes this trade.
Again, Sabonis is a good player. He’s a bully inside, using his physicality and touch to score efficiently. He passes well for his position, capable of orchestrating the offense from the post. He can run pick-and-rolls and will form an interesting combo with point guard De'Aaron Fox. Sabonis rebounds well. He also has a longer track record of improvement and is just 25. Like Haliburton, he can get even better.
But Sabonis’ playing style limits his upside. He isn’t much of a long-range shooter. The Kings’ spacing could be pinched with him, Fox and Richaun Holmes (if they keep Holmes in a potentially busy pre-deadline period). Sabonis is neither long and bouncy enough to protect the rim nor quick enough to defend on the perimeter. Though he can get by with effort, better teams can significantly exploit those deficiencies. Sabonis’ interior scoring sometimes deteriorates against the taller and more athletic bigs good teams tend to feature.
Of course, the Kings aren’t trying to match up against the NBA’s best. They’re merely trying to end their record 15-year postseason drought.
Another problem with this trade for Sacramento: The Pelicans – already two games ahead of the Kings for the final play-in spot – just made their own win-now trade. With Sabonis under contract two more seasons, Sacramento has a longer runway to get production from him. But part of the value of trading for him now should be getting a meaningful boost this season. The Kings are unlikely to realize that.
At least Holiday and Lamb replenish wing depth with Haliburton and Hield outgoing.
The Pacers – who are only one game worse than Sacramento, though further from the postseason picture in the Eastern Conference – are rebuilding. They got nice draft capital for Caris LeVert. Now, they do even better by landing Haliburton.
Sabonis might welcome the change of scenery.
Haliburton, on the other hand, just passionately stated his commitment to the Kings.
Sacramento reportedly said it wanted to build around Fox and Haliburton. Perhaps, that report was inaccurate. But this is the franchise that said it wouldn’t trade DeMarcus Cousins then dealt him just a couple weeks later.
Like the Kings, the Pacers might not be finished after this trade that’s roughly salary-neutral over the next two years.
Hield (29) doesn’t necessarily fit Indiana’s new direction. Maybe another team would value his 3-point shooting. However, his contract (two years, $40,457,591 remaining) is an impediment.
Thompson, on an expiring contract used for salary-matching, looks like a buyout candidate.