Kings-Pacers trade grades: Domantas Sabonis heads to Sacramento; Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield to Indiana

The Indiana Pacers are trading Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday and a 2027 second-round pick to the Sacramento Kings for Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Tristan Thompson, CBS Sports HQ’s Bill Reiter confirms. Both sides had been heavily featured in trade rumors of late, and now, they are helping one another shuffle the deck two days before the deadline.

The Kings had long-coveted Sabonis, but rumors of a possible deal involving De’Aaron Fox had been refuted. It had been widely reported that the Kings were planning to build around Fox rather than trade him, but apparently, their other top young guard in Haliburton was available after all. In Sabonis, the Kings land a two-time All-Star who represents Fox’s best hope yet at a real co-star.

For the Pacers, trading Sabonis means breaking up his long-time partnership with Myles Turner. Indiana can now move forward with Turner as its long-term option at center and a revamped backcourt with Haliburton and Hield to go alone with Chris Duarte and Malcolm Brogdon. With Turner still injured, Indiana has taken a step back this season, but has positioned itself well to come back into the playoff race a year from now.

The Pacers and Kings have the same goal. Sacramento has not reached the playoffs for 16 years, and in acquiring Sabonis, the Kings have added a player that they believe can help get them back there sooner rather than later. The Pacers haven’t been in the lottery for nearly that long, but a tank-centric rebuild is simply not something that organization has ever proven willing to do. “I don’t want to see (a rebuild),” Pacers owner Herb Simon said in December. “If I don’t want to see it, the fans don’t want to see it. Why would we want to go through a rebuild when we can build on the go? That’s the talent.”

In landing Haliburton, he’s taken a step toward doing just that. He’s added a player that is not only younger, but cheaper, and he’s realigned his roster away from the two-center approach that had failed in recent years. Neither the Pacers nor the Kings are locks to make it back into the postseason next year, but both took steps in that direction with this deal. Here’s how both teams graded in the deal.

Indiana receives

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Indiana Pacers grade: A-

The Pacers aren’t exactly known for blockbusters, and the years of mediocrity that preceded this one are a testament to their cautious approach. Indiana simply doesn’t tank, yet right now, they’ve managed to position themselves quite well for the sort of on-the-fly rebuild Simon wants.

The Pacers suddenly have one of the NBA’s most exciting young backcourts in the 22-year-old Haliburton and the 24-year-old Chris Duarte. Isaiah Jackson, just 20, has flashed upside in his rookie season. The Pacers picked up a first-round pick from Cleveland in the Caris LeVert trade, and quietly, they have the NBA’s fifth-worst record as it is. All it’s going to take for them to land the superstar that ties everything together is some luck on lottery night, and that’s with Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon still in place.

It’s the perfect middle ground for a small-market franchise like Indiana. The Pacers didn’t have to spend several years at the bottom of the standings to restock with young players and picks. All it took was a couple of wise draft picks and some opportunistic trading. That isn’t to say that this deal, in a vacuum, was a heist. Sabonis is a two-time All-Star for a reason. He just happens to be a somewhat redundant one on a team with Turner at center and a sudden influx of shot-creation from Haliburton. He was the rare, expendable All-Star, and the Pacers were wise to find a trading partner that was desperate for exactly the sort of player they no longer needed. In that sense, it’s a bit like the deal Orlando made to send Nikola Vucevic to Chicago last season. The Magic gave away their most accomplished player, but he was a big man whose playoff limitations were evident to the majority of the NBA. Neither Sabonis nor Vucevic defends well enough to anchor a playoff defense. Fortunately for the Magic and the Pacers, Chicago and Sacramento were desperate enough for talent infusions that they could overlook that.

Thompson is probably headed for a buyout. Hield is the real question mark here. He’s a valuable player, but is he a long-term fit on an Indiana team that already has Duarte, Brogdon, Haliburton and TJ McConnell? Don’t be surprised if Indiana quietly tries to flip him at the deadline, if only for an expiring contract and some second-round picks. Such a move would set the Pacers up to improve their team even more this offseason with cap space. The Portland Trail Blazers should take heed. This is how you reload on the fly.

Sacramento receives

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Sacramento Kings grade: C+

This grade should really be an incomplete. The Kings clearly aren’t done yet. At the very least, a Richaun Holmes trade appears imminent now. Sabonis might have been able to coexist with Turner, but Turner is a stellar 3-point shooter by center standards. Holmes has taken five 3’s all season. The most sensible deal there would be a Holmes-for-PJ Washington swap with Charlotte. The Hornets would get the rim-running center they’ve so desperately craved whole the Kings could add a power forward to replace Harrison Barnes, whom they have reportedly shopped. Judging this trade in a vacuum isn’t fully fair.

We can at least judge the Fox-Sabonis pairing. Having a center that can at least provide a modicum of spacing is going to help Fox. So is Sabonis’ rebounding and outlet passing, which will hopefully create plenty of baskets in transition. But downhill guards like Fox tend to prefer pick-and-roll partners who can catch lobs over those that are best-suited to popping back behind the arc. When Sabonis is operating in the high-post, will Fox take the initiative to cut off of the ball? His speed and Sabonis’ passing and screening instincts could create a lethal combination, but it’s going to require growth on Fox’s part.

Philosophically, it’s worth asking if the Kings should’ve held firm on Haliburton. His shooting makes him a cleaner point guard to build around, and he still has two years remaining on his rookie-scale contract whereas Fox is making the max. It’s unclear whether or not Indiana would have been interested in a Fox-centric package rather than one built around Haliburton, but the cost here was substantial. At least the Kings were able to get off of the last two years of the Hield contract in the process. That should open up a starting role for defensive ace Davion Mitchell. That can only help Sacramento’s No. 29 ranked defense.

Ultimately, Indiana winning this deal doesn’t necessarily mean that Sacramento lost it. The Kings still have moves to make. The Fox-Sabonis duo is going to need time to figure one another out. Check back in a year or two and this deal could look much better… or much worse.

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