Winners, losers from Pacers trade of Sabonis to Kings for Haliburton

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Clippers
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This trade was a record scratch around the NBA.

While everyone was trying to digest CJ McCollum getting sent to the Big Easy, news broke of this trade between the Pacers and Kings and everyone froze and went, “what?” Around the NBA, Haliburton was seen as the Kings’ most valuable player going forward, the draft pick they hit, and a better foundational piece than De'Aaron Fox (even if his peaks are not quite as high. But the Kings sent Haliburton out to bring back another big man in Domantas Sabonis. The NBA world struggled to get their heads around it.

Let’s break the trade down, winners and losers style. First, the trade itself.

The Pacers receive: Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy HieldTristan Thompson
The Kings receive: Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday, 2027 second-round pick


Because they set a direction for the organization.

Indiana gave up the best player in this trade right now — usually a sign a team lost in the deal. Not here. In part because what the Pacers had now was not working (19-37 this season) and they needed to pick a direction.

They did exactly that by getting a highly coveted player in Haliburton who can play off the ball next to Malcolm Brogdon but is also a second-year guard who runs the pick-and-roll like a 12-year vet.

The roster falls into place. Myles Turner is their center now, and once he gets healthy he gives them a top-flight rim protector on defense who will get the more prominent role in the offense he seeks. Turner will run pick-and-rolls/pops with Haliburton and they will be surrounded by shooters: Brogdon, Hield, and Chris Duarte. (Don’t be shocked if the Pacers move one of those guards now at the deadline or this offseason.)

Once TJ Warren returns (there are questions about that but those for another time), this is a good roster: Brogdon and Haliburton in the backcourt, a few choices at the three, Warren at the four and Turner as the anchor. There’s depth. Coach Rick Carlisle has players to work with. This is not a team threatening the Bucks or Heat at the top of the East right now, but it’s a good team with a plan. That has value.


What is the long-term plan? What are they building?

I don’t enjoy the blood sport of thrashing Sacramento (as NBA Twitter clearly does), and one can argue the Kings did well in this trade: For one, they got the best player in the deal in Sabonis, who is a two-time All-Star averaging 18.9 points and 12.1 rebounds a game this season. I’d even say Sabonis is the best player the Kings have had since peak DeMarcus Cousins (no, he’s not better than Cousins). Plus, they kept their highly valued 2022 first-round pick (currently the sixth-best odds entering the lottery). Long-time Kings writer Sean Cunningham makes the King’s case.

However, with this deal the Kings choose De’Aaron Fox over Haliburton as the point guard of the future. That’s the big head-scratcher. Fox is the more dynamic athlete and scores more points per game — he can hit higher peaks for a moment — but he has taken a step back this season. Fox gets to the rim less often, takes fewer 3s, his shooting percentages are down across the board (26.4% from 3, and he was never strong there), and he isn’t striking fear into the hearts of defenses with his speed and aggressive style this season. Plus, he’s in the first year of a five-year max deal.

The Kings seem to be stockpiling big men with Sabonis, Harrison Barnes (who could be traded by Thursday), Chimezie Metu, Marvin Bagley, Richaun Holmes, Alex Len, and Damian Jones all around to play the four and five.

There are just questions of fit everywhere. Do Fox and Sabonis fit together in the half court? Fox is not a great pick-and-roll or dribble hand-off guy (that was Haliburton). Now the Kings have two good bigs in Sabonis and Richaun Holmes, neither of whom space the floor. Do Fox and Davion Mitchell work as the backcourt of the future?

Mostly, this appears to be the Kings adding talent to make a run at the play-in this season. They are three games back of the now-improved Pelicans for that No. 10 spot, and 7.5 games back of LeBron James and the Lakers for the No. 9 spot. Making the postseason this year seems a long shot at best.

Maybe I’m missing the long-term plan, but I just don’t see it.


Haliburton lands in an excellent spot for his development.

He and Brogdon make a fantastic backcourt pairing because both can create shots or play off the ball. That kind of versatility in the hands of coach Rick Carlisle will cause real problems for opponents. He’s going to love playing with Turner and Warren, should they ever get healthy (if you’re a good podiatrist, move to Indianapolis and team up with the Pacers, they could use you).

In a couple of years in the East, Haliburton could be an All-Star (where the guards this year include Darius Garland, a player on a similar trajectory). He will get showcased and get paid in a couple of years. This is a win for him.


Richaun Holmes is a quality center, but not many fans notice because 1) He is just solid and does everything well but isn’t always spectacular; 2) He plays in Sacramento and nobody was watching. Holmes is averaging 11.8 points and 7.9 rebounds a game, is shooting 68.3% and plays good defense.

However, Sabonis is a better player, certainly a better scorer, and the two bigs occupy the same space on the court. The Kings will feature Sabonis in a push for the postseason, which could end up sidelining Holmes and his role.

Where Holmes fits on these Kings is a question… unless he’s traded. Teams have called and checked on his availability, both because he is solid and under contract for three seasons after this one at a very reasonable $36.1 million (the last year of that is a player option). If Holmes is traded, this could be a win for him. But for now, it looks like a problem.