After the Indiana Pacers acquired Tyrese Haliburton in February,
it quickly became clear that they'd found their next franchise
player. The 22-year-old point guard with superstar potential is
everything you could ask for as the face of your organization — on
and off the court.
Still, when Haliburton hears those words — “face of the
franchise” — he starts laughing.
“That’s so funny. It's so funny just hearing you say that,”
Haliburton told Basketball News with a chuckle.
“The way I look at it, that’s not for me to decide. I guess
that's more for fans and media to decide who that is, and if people
say it's me, I guess I understand.”
While Haliburton may not be comfortable with that label just
yet, Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan has no qualms about
describing Haliburton as the team’s centerpiece going forward.
“We're gonna build our team around him,” Buchanan told
Basketball News. “We see him as hopefully being the next Reggie
Miller. We had a Reggie Miller mural painted on a building in
downtown Indianapolis, and I think our dream is that one day Tyrese
will have [his own mural] up somewhere in downtown
Haliburton isn’t taking this opportunity for granted. He admits
that he has dreamed of being a team’s focal point since his
childhood, and he’s ready for everything that being “the guy”
“As a kid, I would’ve f****n’ killed for this, so it's fun to be
a part of,” Haliburton said. “And at the end of the day, it's just
basketball. And the things in life that come with it, I'm just
gonna be who I am and share my values on certain things... I just
take it naturally and have fun with it. It’s a great opportunity
Haliburton couldn’t be happier in Indiana, and he’s come to
realize that the Sacramento Kings’ decision to trade him six months
ago was a blessing in disguise. But back when the deal first
happened, he was blindsided by the move and devastated.
Haliburton truly thought he would finish his career in
Sacramento, so he was heartbroken when the Kings ended their
marriage after just 109 games. It didn’t help that the Kings
assured him that he had nothing to worry about the day before the
“Before I got traded, I felt invincible,” Haliburton told
Basketball News. “I was playing really well. Right before I got
traded, I had 13 [points] and 17 [assists]. They kept bringing up
trade rumors and I wouldn't even bat an eye because I'm like,
‘There's no way that they actually would trade me.’ I wasn't
worried. And I think that [trade] just made me look at having more
self-awareness and realizing I'm not bigger than the ultimate
A week before the blockbuster deal, Haliburton erupted for a
career-high 38 points to go along with 7 assists, 5 threes and 3
steals against the Philadelphia 76ers. His very next outing was a
21-point, 8-assist performance against the New York Knicks. In his
final game with the Kings, he had the aforementioned 13-point,
17-assist showing in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He was playing the best basketball of his NBA career.
Then, on the morning of February 8, Haliburton got a call from
his agent, Dave Spahn. Spahn told him that he was likely getting
traded, and Haliburton initially thought it was a joke. Once he
realized it was serious and learned the details, he started
sobbing. The Kings were sending Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Tristan
Thompson to Indiana in exchange for Domantas Sabonis, Justin
Holiday, Jeremy Lamb and a 2023 second-round draft pick.
Haliburton cried for nearly an hour before finally reconnecting
with Spahn, who had the Pacers’ brass on the phone. They told
Haliburton how much they valued him and outlined their plan to
build around him going forward.
“I needed to hear that,” Haliburton told Spahn after the call
with Indiana’s front office.
Immediately after the trade, the Kings faced intense criticism.
Fans, media, players and rival executives bashed the deal. Many
people were stunned that Sacramento was willing to part with
Haliburton. Several players reached out to Haliburton or pulled him
aside during games to show their support and express their
disbelief about the move.
“To be honest, at first, I truthfully didn't care [about the
reaction],” Haliburton said. “Obviously, I do stuff with ‘The Old
Man and the Three,’ and JJ [Redick] is a good friend of mine. I
remember talking to Dave on the phone the day of the trade, and
Dave was like, 'Yo, on ESPN, JJ is killing the Kings right now!'
And in my head I was like, ‘Truthfully, man, I don't give a f**k. I
don't care.’ I didn't care at first. For me, I only cared about how
I felt about it. I
didn't care about anybody else. But I think as time went on, I got
to hear more opinions from people that I respect, and then, that's
when I started to listen to it.
“The only real opinions that I truthfully care about — and I've
realized this since I've been in the league — are my peers. So when
I hear what JJ said, and then I hear what Draymond [Green] said.
And then, guys pulling me aside — [Kevin] Love pulling me
aside when we played in Cleveland, and Kyrie [Irving] and guys like
that kind of talking to me about it. Kyrie DM'd me on Instagram.
Even the other day, I'm playing in the Drew League and Norman
Powell pulled me aside; I hadn't seen him since I got traded. It
feels good when it's your peers [with that opinion] because there's
nobody that I respect more than my peers in the NBA. If they feel
that way, then it's like, ‘Oh okay, cool.’ But at the end of the
day, the No. 1 thing was how I felt about it.”
Buchanan doesn't believe it was a one-sided deal since both
franchises got exactly what they needed.
"We gave up a really good player in Domas too," Buchanan said.
"They had a lot of guards and had some flexibility to maybe move
one of them; we had multiple bigs and we kind of had flexibility to
move one of ours. So our needs and their needs kind of matched up,
and the roster situation matched up as well. For them, I'm sure
having Domas be available made it a great deal for them...
"With what Sacramento needed and what we're trying to build, it
was a win-win situation for both teams — I wouldn't say anything
bad about Sacramento because they had multiple talented guards and
they had to make a decision. It was hard for them to play all of
those guys, I'm sure. And for us, it was hard to play Myles
[Turner] and Domas together. So we were both kind of in a situation
where we had to make decisions on multiple good players at the same
position. It just happened to work out that we both walked away
with good talent out of the deal."
Haliburton has spent the last six months reflecting on
everything that happened. While that wound still hasn’t completely
healed, he’s making progress.
“I'm not gonna lie — for a while, it was just complete
resentment towards, honestly, everybody in the organization if I'm
being quite frank, even people who had nothing to do with [the
trade],” Haliburton told Basketball News. “It was just resentment
towards the organization as a whole. And that was so immature of
me. It's funny — the other day I was just writing down regrets I
have in my life, unfulfilled expectations and resentments, and the
only resentment I could come up with in my life right now is the
Sacramento Kings. And it's like, I don't want to hold onto
“If I'm being completely honest, that [trade] is such a blessing
for me. It's so easy now to look at it that way, but it's a
complete blessing for me to be in the situation that I'm in, to
have the ability to showcase what I can do and play my natural
position. It's helping me a ton. So, you know, it's love at the end
of the day. It is what it is. Just taking a step back and
self-reflecting on a lot of different things in life, I think it
made me a bigger person and just have more self-awareness.”
When told that this is a very mature way to view the situation,
“I'd be lying to you if I tell you I don't have my moments [of
immaturity] because it's just human nature,” he said. “But I think
I've had great teachers in my life in all different aspects, great
mentors. And I was just raised the right way. I think a lot of
credit goes to my mom and my pops and just how they raised me.”
While he has started the process of moving on, make no mistake:
he’s still using the trade as a source of motivation, and he’s
determined to make the Kings regret their decision.
“I think for the rest of my career, that [trade] is in my head,
right? I think the great ones take little things, negative things
and run with them," Haliburton said. “It’s funny — when I do things
well, people are always like, 'Look at what the Kings did!' I
love that stuff. That's what I love. My whole life, I just
love proving people wrong... Everything I do, I just want it to be
like, ‘[Look at what the Kings did]!’”
Haliburton seeks out any slights and feeds off of them. Over the
years, there’s been no shortage of fuel for his fire. After all, he
was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. After two years
at Iowa State, he slipped to No. 12 in the 2020 NBA Draft. He’s
used to being doubted and battling adversity, and getting traded
was just the latest addition to the bulletin board.
“I’ve been overlooked since I was a kid; since eighth or ninth
grade, I’ve felt that way,” Haliburton said. “That’s why I’ve
always been who I am. And that’s why I’m just so appreciative of
where I am today because of what I’ve been through in my life in
terms of being overlooked. Being where I am now is such a blessing.
Even though I obviously get a lot of love — like, I’m sitting here
talking to you right now — and people appreciate me as a basketball
player and as a person, I still find every little thing that I can
to make me in my head believe, ‘I’m still overlooked.’ And to be
honest, I might not get the respect that I deserve...
“I use every little thing as fuel to the fire, to be honest.
Like, everything. Like, a dude who tweeted something and
tagged me in the tweet and he has three followers, I use that.
Like, every single thing. That’s just naturally who I am
as a competitor. If somebody has something to say or somebody feels
a certain type of way, I use those things. I use how people have
viewed me. I think it’s just the competitor in me and the
competitive spirit that I have.”
A NEW HOME
It’s not easy to change teams midseason, but Haliburton handled
the transition quite well.
While he only played 26 games with the Pacers last season, it
didn’t take long for him to win over the fan base — averaging 17.5
points, 9.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 2.2 threes and 1.8 steals per
contest on .502/.416/.849 shooting splits.
Haliburton was born and raised in Oshkosh, Wisconsin — a
five-hour drive from Indianapolis — and he believes his Midwest
roots have helped him get acclimated to Indiana and connect with
“It's such a natural fit,” Haliburton said. “I'm a Midwest kid
through and through, and my girlfriend's from Iowa. We are like
super Midwest people. It's not far from home... [Also], I think
it's been a very natural fit just because of the way I play. And I
think Indiana is basketball. I just play naturally and
just have so much fun with what I do that I think they appreciate
what I bring to the table and the spirit and energy that I play the
game of basketball with. So I think that's why it fits so well. I'm
just really excited about it.”
Buchanan said that Haliburton and the community are “meshing
together perfectly.” For example, the 21-year-old has already been
spotted at local high-school basketball games, which to Buchanan
shows how much he's "immersing himself into the culture here."
"If you look at his personality, he's very, very humble, very
hardworking, very team-oriented, which have always been traits of
the Pacer teams over the years,” Buchanan said. “I think he has an
appreciation of the history of both the Pacers but also just
basketball in general, and he's a lot like our average fan here in
Indiana who grew up loving basketball, knows the game and
appreciates guys who play the right way. He really epitomizes
almost all those qualities, so it's been a seamless fit for him
with our culture. He has an appreciation for the game of
basketball. He loves it as much as anybody I've been around
since I've been in the NBA, so I'm very optimistic about his future
because of that quality."
Buchanan raves about Haliburton’s impact on and off the court,
stressing that he makes everyone around him better both as a
facilitator and a culture-setter, "lighting up the room" as a
charismatic and outgoing person, but also a humble one.
"I think any time you have a point guard who likes to make
others better, that's a great starting point to build a team,”
Buchanan said. “He's very unselfish. But he also knows that there
are nights and quarters and possessions where it’s, ‘Hey, the team
needs me to score right now.’ And his feel for the moment, his feel
for the game and his feel for the pulse of his team are really
exceptional for as young as he is. I think, as an organization,
sometimes we kind of forget that he's only got two years in the NBA
because it feels like he's a 10-year veteran. He has a great
understanding of what's going on."
How important is Haliburton to Indiana’s culture? Buchanan says
that even if Haliburton wasn’t an NBA-caliber player, he’d find a
job for him within the organization because his infectious energy
is so important.
“He's just one of those guys that just brings energy to our gym
every day, and it's so, so hard to find guys like that,” Buchanan
said. “I mean, there are some out there, but our league is very
‘me’ centered and Tyrese is a ‘we’ kind of guy. It's very
refreshing to have a guy with those qualities, and I think it'll
rub off on a lot of people around our team moving forward.
"Even if he wasn't playing right now — like, if he wasn't an
NBA-caliber player — he's the type of guy you'd want on your staff,
whether it be as your assistant GM or assistant coach or
player-development guy. Tyrese is one of the few guys that I've
been around during my time in the NBA where [that’s the case]...
It's hard to describe what he brings for us culture-wise because
there are so many good traits that he has and we're just trying to
tap into as many of them as we can and put as much talent around
him as we can to build this team.”
The Pacers have already started surrounding Haliburton with
talent, as their young core now features Bennedict Mathurin, Chris
Duarte, Isaiah Jackson, Jalen Smith, Aaron Nesmith, Andrew Nembhard
and Kendall Brown among others. Indiana also has veterans such as
Myles Turner, Buddy Hield, T.J. McConnell and Daniel Theis on the
With their youth, draft picks and cap flexibility, the Pacers
are setting themselves up nicely for the future.
"Man, I'm really excited about it,” Haliburton said of Indiana's
long-term potential. “I'm really excited about the opportunity to
build something young and starting from scratch, it feels. I think
what Memphis has done is kinda what every young team is aspiring to
do — have a bunch of young pieces that grow together, draft well
and then compete for a championship. That's big for me — to be able
to kind of start from scratch and be a part of that culture
building and everything that comes with it... I think that's just
the fun part about it, just being so young and getting to grow
together, I think that's really exciting.”
Indiana selected Mathurin with the No. 6 overall pick in this
year’s draft, hoping that he and Haliburton can form a dominant
one-two punch in the backcourt moving forward. Last season,
Mathurin was the Pac-12 Player of the Year, averaging 17.7 points,
5.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and a steal per game for Arizona.
"I think that we just complement each other in so many different
ways,” Haliburton said of Mathurin. “I think the most important
thing about it is that we both love basketball. I think that's huge
for me, being around somebody who truthfully loves the game of
basketball and wants to be around, wants to be in the gym late at
night, wants to watch film, all those things. That's big for me in
terms of building a culture and building an organization. If you
have guys who love basketball and really enjoy it, then it's hard
not to be good. That will just happen naturally. So in my short
period of time being around Ben so far, I can definitely see that,
and I'm really excited to grow together and learn together and just
kinda learn each other on and off the floor."
"Tyrese was a very big fan of Ben at Arizona and during the
draft process, and I think he likes their fit together,” Buchanan
added. “Ben's got some physicality to him and is a nice complement
to Tyrese. And I think Tyrese saw, like, ‘I can help Ben play well
— my game will help magnify and amplify what Ben can do, and help
him succeed.’ With all of our young players, I think he sees
that... Ben is a very confident player, but he's also very young.
Knowing that Tyrese, who's kind of the leader of our team, believes
in him from Day 1 will only help his confidence and help him play
well as a rookie and grow as a player in general. That's a big
thing for a young player and their confidence — knowing that the
key players on your team believe in you before you even step foot
on the court with them. Our coaches are very excited about that
combination as well.”
During the second half of last season, Turner was sidelined with
a stress fracture in his foot, so he hasn't gotten a chance to play
with Haliburton. Buchanan is looking forward to seeing that pairing
“He's yet to play a single minute with Myles, and I think he's
excited about that,” Buchanan said. “This is an opportunity for
Myles to play with somebody who's constantly looking to set other
guys up, and so I think Myles and him will have a good
Kevin Pritchard and Buchanan often rave about their young point
guard, but the respect is mutual. Haliburton had plenty of positive
things to say about the Pacers’ player-friendly organization.
“I think so far, KP and Chad have been great to me and my
family,” Haliburton said. “From the people that I've talked to in
the organization, they’d say the same thing. I think that's a big
part, right? Just putting your players first. I think that's what
makes Golden State so special is how they treat their players.
Obviously they have Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and great basketball
players, but I think from an organizational standpoint, they treat
their players so well and their families so well; that makes guys
want to be there.
"I think that's the most important thing that franchises can do
is treat their players the right way, and Chad and KP and the
coaching staff and just everybody's done a great job of welcoming
me and my family with open arms and just treating us like family
from the jump."
Haliburton is so comfortable in Indiana that he can see himself
finishing his career with the Pacers.
“For sure. I think it just fits really well into the direction I
see my life going in, and I think it's such a natural fit,”
Haliburton said. “I definitely could see myself being here
long-term. I just bought a house, so I hope it's a long
time (laughs). I hope!”
THE NEXT STEP
Since elementary school, Haliburton has loved being a
facilitator. Last season, he totaled the fourth-most assists in the
NBA (628) and averaged the seventh-most assists per game (8.2).
“That's always been who I am ever since I can remember,”
Haliburton said. “I started playing point guard in fourth grade,
and it’s always kind of come natural for me. I think it comes from
just the people that I watched growing up. LeBron [James] was my
favorite player growing up, and my dad always made me watch old
Laker stuff with Magic [Johnson]. That was just fun to me — to see
other people win, to see my teammates score. It just felt cool;
that's just naturally who I am.”
However, this offseason, Haliburton is working with NBA trainer
Drew Hanlen and his primary focus has been his scoring. He knows
that, in order to take the next step in his development, he needs
to be more aggressive and look for his own shot.
“I think the biggest goal for me is just becoming more
comfortable as a scorer,” Haliburton said. “I think a lot of this
summer has been about driving angles, getting to the free-throw
line more, figuring out more ways to score in general. I think the
biggest thing is just shifting myself mentally, shifting my
mentality. I think being more aggressive as a scorer will allow me
to also open up more things as a facilitator; I think it boosts
both things for me... [I’ll] still be facilitating, but I’ll also
be looking for my own [shot], and that's gonna help everybody at
the end of the day.”
Hanlen has been impressed with Haliburton, who could be on the
verge of a breakout year.
“Tyrese is one of the best passers in the NBA, so this summer
we’ve been working on adding a scoring component that will make him
even more dynamic,” Hanlen said. “We spent the first couple weeks
working on his pace and footwork, and now we have been focusing on
driving and finishing.
“This season, I think you’ll see a guy that can drop 20-and-10
any given night.”
Haliburton agrees with Hanlen, and that’s a goal that he's set
for himself entering the 2022-23 campaign.
“I want to be a 20-and-10 guy and I want to be an All-Star,”
Haliburton said. “Those are two personal goals for me that, I
think, are attainable. I definitely think [I can accomplish that],
for sure. I think I had that ability last year, and there was a
span where I was doing that, so I think that naturally, I just have
that ability. But now it’s just making that shift mentality-wise. I
truthfully think 8, 9, 10 assists, that just happens for me playing
basketball. I feel like I'm just a facilitator by nature, like,
that just happens.
"But I think for me, it's just getting more field-goal attempts,
getting to the free-throw line more — I think I had like 30 games
last year with no free throws, so I’m paying attention to that —
and just figuring out different nuances and different ways to score
the basketball. That's just gonna allow me to elevate my game to a
Hanlen wants Haliburton to attempt at least 14 shots per game.
Over the final two months of last season, Hanlen and Spahn would
text Haliburton “14” before every game as a reminder to shoot
Why 14 shots, you ask?
On January 28, 2022, Hanlen and Spahn were having dinner with
Haliburton in Philadelphia. During their conversation, it came up
that many of Haliburton’s best games have come when he’s aggressive
and attempting at least 14 shots. Throughout his career, he’s had
40 such games, in which he's averaged 20.5 points, 8.2 assists, 3.6
rebounds, 3.0 threes and 2.1 steals on efficient .493/.454/.840
Haliburton seemed to take the advice to heart because the very
next night, he put up 19 shots against the 76ers, scoring a
career-high 38 points on a ridiculous 57.9% from the field, 55.6%
from deep and 91.7% at the charity stripe.
(Note: In the four games that Haliburton has attempted 18 or
more shots, he's averaged 28.5 points, 10.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds,
3.5 threes and 2.5 steals on incredible .533/.519/.870 shooting
As Haliburton mentioned, he’s still working on shifting his
mentality. He’s a pass-first, efficient player who always looks to
make the right play. He’s learning that, as the No. 1 option,
sometimes that means taking over the game and firing away. He's
been thinking a lot about NBA legends like Michael Jordan and
Kobe Bryant, who never shied away from shooting the ball.
“I still need to add more arrogance to myself, to be honest,”
Haliburton says with a laugh. “I think all of the great ones have
an arrogance about them, and that’s something that I’m paying
attention to. Having a certain arrogance about me, I think that’s
important for me to take that next step.
"Next year, I’m going to take the step of being more aggressive
and I’ll be shooting more. And I’ve been told, ‘You’re going to
have to shoot some bad shots. That kinda just comes with it.’ And
to me, there’s a little bit of arrogance in that, but that’s okay!
I feel like I’ve earned that right. With the work I put in, I feel
like I’ve earned that right, and I think it just comes with
As an executive, you’d much rather have a player who is too
unselfish and needs a nudge to shoot than a player who’s jacking up
shots and needs to rein it in.
“He's very team-oriented; he thinks of others before himself at
all times, and that's a great quality to have,” Buchanan said of
Haliburton. “I think he's learning sometimes you can be unselfish
and be a great teammate, and still be thinking of yourself first —
because sometimes thinking about yourself is what the team needs at
that particular moment. I think that’s part of his growth as a
young player, learning when it's about him and not always about
others around him.
"And that's not to say, [it's] in a bad way; [it’s] just
knowing, ‘Hey, my team needs me to look for myself right now.
They're looking for me to score and make a play and go get a bucket
for us.’ I think he knows those moments — I mean, he's a
really, really cerebral player — and now it's just acting on it.
And I think you'll see more of that this year."
Buchanan also points out that it’s difficult for a young player
to join a team midseason and take over the offense, which could
explain why Haliburton wasn’t shooting more down the stretch of
"Obviously, being traded to a new team as a young player, your
first thoughts are, ‘Okay, how am I going to fit in with this new
group that I haven't played with before?’ He was very respectful to
the older players, which I give him a lot of credit for,” Buchanan
said. “He came in and understood, like, ‘Hey, some of these guys
have accomplished more than me, and they've been around longer than
me, so I want to learn from them and defer and be respectful of
them.’ And that was to his credit — that’s the way a young player
should treat a new situation. He only had 26 games with
us, so he was just kind of feeling out everything around him. It's
a new environment, it’s a new gym, it's a new coach, it's a new
strength coach. So there are all these things that are new to him
that he's trying to get acclimated [to], and then, you throw in the
on-court component of it and we're asking him to do a lot of
“I think by the end of the year, he understood, ‘Okay, this is
how I fit in, this is what Coach Carlisle is expecting of me, and
I'm kind of getting a feel for my teammates now.’ I think this
year, you'll see a guy who's probably a little more assertive and
trying to, some nights, score the ball a little more than he was
for us at the end of the season."
Looking back on the last few years, Haliburton is proud of the
progress that he’s made. This is the first time he hasn't been with
his team for a full offseason, training with Hanlen in Los Angeles
after spending some time with Indiana earlier in the summer.
“I’ve developed a ton and I think I've just become more
confident in what I do, trusting who I am as a player,” Haliburton
said. “I think that's the biggest thing for me. I’ve added so many
different things, whether that's being more physical, finishing. I
feel like I'm more natural of a shooter off the bounce. I'm getting
a lot stronger than I was. When I got to school [as a freshman], I
was 6-foot-5, 155 pounds and now I'm like 6-foot-5, 195 pounds.
It's crazy how my body has changed, and that's just so exciting for
me... I would say I started to take the nutrition side super
seriously in my second year [too], hiring a full-time chef, and
that was big for me and my body.
"And I’m just being confident in my own skin, I think that's the
Haliburton is determined to be great, and he’s doing all of the
right things to take a major leap forward during his third NBA
season. The Pacers feel confident that they've put the keys to
their franchise in the right hands, and they can’t wait to watch
Haliburton realize his superstar potential.
"I think that's the exciting part for us — there's still a lot
of room for him to grow and evolve and improve, and he's got the
work ethic and drive to do it," Buchanan said. "I know he's had a
really good offseason, and I think he's put himself in a position
to make another jump this season.
“It's hard not to get giddy about where Tyrese Haliburton could
be in four, five, six years for us.”