Pacers on track with Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, Kevin Pritchard

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INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Pritchard talks boats and he sees the Indiana Pacers heading out to sea. For too long the Pacers have been in slow motion, choked with fumes and injuries and the antiquated Twin Tower lineup of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, but about two weeks ago Pritchard made a decision:

“It was awkward,” he said Friday of pairing two centers 6-11 in a league that has become smaller, faster and more skilled. “Enough is enough.”

Pritchard, president of the Pacers since 2017, spoke with owner Herb Simon and got permission to retool the team. That’s the word he likes, by the way: retool. Here’s another one: remodel.

“We sit down and try to come up with every ‘re’ word: reshape, retool,” says Pritchard. “There are all kinds of reconstructions. It’s not a rebuild.”

Pritchard slows down to underline those last five words – this is not a rebuild – and his eyebrows rise. He looks around at reporters at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, about two hours before the start of the Pacers’ game against Cleveland, and those joining the press conference on Zoom. You understand? That’s what he’s telling us, and by extension Pacers fans, and probably even his boss, a man he calls “Mr. Simon,” who will be 88 before next season and has no want to start over.

Pritchard used the trade deadline to add talent and assets, sending injury-prone veteran Caris LeVert to Cleveland for a first-round pick and salary cap space, then, after hearing the impossible – Sacramento do 2021 All-Rookie point guard Tyrese Haliburton available? – send his best player, Sabonis, to the Kings for Haliburton and veteran marksman Buddy Hield.

Following: Tyrese Haliburton, “child of the Midwest”, shares a unique bond with the Pacers, CJ Miles and Jonathan Taylor?

Now he talks about boats and uses hand signals to illustrate his point.

“The boat is going this way,” Pritchard says, pointing to his right, the starboard side, and there’s symmetry there with the Pacers adding a young star in Tyrese Haliburton and positioned to add one or two from more this offseason. “There are audibles that can take it this way or that way, but the boat is now going in a different direction, and we like that direction.”

The Pacers have more moves to make to become a major player in the Eastern Conference, but their next is obvious. This franchise has a singular talent that it cannot afford to lose and needs to lock it up before it hits the open market.

The Pacers need to re-sign Kevin Pritchard.

The Pacers can’t lose Kevin Pritchard

Look at the trades he made. Go down the list. I’ll wait.

Remember what Pritchard got for ill-fated veteran Paul George, who undermined his worth in 2017 by making it clear he wanted out; Prichard turned George into two future All-Stars, Sabonis and Victor Oladipo. Remember what happened after Oladipo took a villainous turn, going PG 2.0 and wanting out; Pritchard turned the disgruntled and injured player into Caris LeVert, who he turned this week into a first-round pick and enough room to get another TJ Warren one day.

Do you remember the deal with TJ Warren? The Phoenix Suns aren’t run by idiots – the Suns reached the 2021 NBA Finals and have the best record in the NBA right now – but Pritchard worked them in 2019 by having them give Indiana a second pick turn for the privilege of taking over Warren’s contract. Warren became the Pacers’ best two-way player two years ago. Later he got hurt, which happens to most Pacers these days, but it was a heist.

Pritchard is getting some heat from some people here, because the Pacers have been idle for so long and because the bottom has fallen this season. People who know, who understand, realize the Pacers have had an unreal injury streak but have a front office assistant. Pritchard’s contract is believed to expire after this season, although I’m not sure, and I don’t mind admitting it. Most NBA senior executives have language in their contracts that prevents them from discussing their contract — strange but true — and Pritchard seems to be one of those senior executives.

Following: Doyel: Injuries organically do what Pacers intentionally refuse to do, tank

To lose Pritchard now, in the middle of this rebuild – sorry, this revamp, this revamp, this reload, this… – would be devastating. Besides being great traders, Pritchard and his staff are superb talent evaluators. The Pacers saw All-Star potential in Oladipo and Sabonis, and nailed it. They saw a scorer in Chris Duarte and a potential star in Isaiah Jackson, and they both managed to land in the 2021 NBA Draft. Now they see something special, something transformative, in Tyrese Haliburton .

Are you going to say the Pacers are wrong about Haliburton? Not me. If Haliburton was a stock, I would buy all the stock I could get. Especially after hearing Pritchard talk about him on Friday.

Tyrese Haliburton: next Pacers star

Pritchard enters the interview room at the appointed time of 4:30 p.m., looking sharp in a taupe blazer with matching pocket square over a light blue shirt – unbuttoned at the top; no tie – and sits behind the microphone. He looks around him.

“Is this just going?” he says. “OKAY!”

And he left. He talks about boats and retooling, and he thanks LeVert and Sabonis, but most of all he praises Tyrese Haliburton.

“We have the point guard of our future,” he says of Haliburton, who averaged 13.6 points and 6.3 assists – and shot 46.5% from the floor overall, 41.1% on 3 points and 84.4% from the line – in 1½ seasons in Sacrament. The Kings took Haliburton 12th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, but he was a top-three player in the class, along with Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards and Charlotte’s LeMelo Ball.

In Sacramento, Haliburton played alongside point guard De’Aaron Fox, who dominates the ball and shoots poorly. With the Pacers, Haliburton is the leader of the future and the present. Malcolm Brogdon, who gets injured as often as you and I have coffee, will move into fullback when Haliburton is on the field. It wouldn’t surprise me if Brogdon moved to another franchise after this season.

Here’s more from Pritchard on Haliburton:

“I’ve been in this business for a long time,” he would say, “and I’ve got a young, upside playmaker and you feel you can build for the next 10 years – those don’t come often. Tyrese is this guy that we love not just on the pitch, but off the pitch… it’s going to be great to build around him.

More from Pritchard on Haliburton:

“We really feel like we can get the ball more into Tyrese’s hands, and he can really blossom into something special – at 21,” Pritchard says, leaning forward and pronouncing those last three words with more volume. “When you get those kind of guys, it’s like having the Peyton (Mannings), the Andrew Lucks. They’re point guards, elite point guards.

Following:

“We had a targeted player and we were able to catch him,” he said of Haliburton. “That included a lot of knocking on the door (from the Kings). We were the aggressors and we thought (Haliburton) could change the whole organization, or at least reinvigorate it.

And one more, because I’m not sure you understand:

“I saw a lot of bright faces,” Pritchard said of meeting the team earlier Friday. “From the guys in the team, I already feel it: ‘Oh man, I can play with a guy who is going to give us the ball at the right time.’ I feel an exalted team.

Are you an enthusiastic Pacers fan right now? Go ahead, it’s OK. Feel safe. The Pacers suddenly have a deep, modern NBA backcourt of Haliburton (14.3 ppg this season, 41.3% on 3-pointers), Duarte (13.6 ppg, 35.9%), Hield (14 .4 ppg, 36.8) and Brogdon for as long as he’s here (18.5 ppg, 30.7%), with TJ Warren (19.8 ppg, 40.3% in 2020) eventually returning for playing alongside athletic, shot-blocking and ground-spacing centers Myles Turner and Isaiah Jackson, with quality depth in guards Duane Washington and TJ McConnell, forward Terry Taylor and center Goga Bitadze.

The Pacers will enter the 2022 offseason with two first-round picks — currently No. 5 overall (their pick) and No. 25 overall (from Cleveland) if the season ends Thursday. Purdue’s Jaden Ivey could still be there at No. 5. I’m just saying. Whatever happens, the Pacers also freed up more than $25 million under the salary cap this offseason, mostly thanks to the LeVert trade and a bonanza of future second-round picks.

“No matter what we choose, we may have the capital project to get where we want to be,” says Pritchard.

The Pacers have chosen a new direction and are moving faster now, approaching open water, with the ability to go full throttle.

Following: Join the text conversation with sports columnist Gregg Doyel for insights, reader questions and insights from Doyel behind the curtain:

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at www.facebook.com/greggdoyelstar.

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