Haliburton is here to stay

Tyrese Haliburton Press Conference (July 6, 2023) | Indiana Pacers

The Pacers made one of the most significant moves in franchise history official on Thursday, signing All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton to a massive, multi-year contract extension, the largest deal ever for a Pacer.

At such an important moment, offering Haliburton a maximum extension was quite simply one of the easiest decisions President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard has ever had to make.

Pritchard had high hopes for Haliburton when Indiana traded for the 6-5 guard — then in his second NBA season — at the 2022 trade deadline. Over the past year and a half, Haliburton has far exceeded all expectations in every aspect, from his superb play on the pitch to his infectious influence in the dressing room to his genuine commitment to the community.

In just 82 games so far with the Pacers, Haliburton has already established himself as one of the more beloved players to don an Indiana uniform in the nearly 20 years since Reggie Miller’s retirement. The good news for Pacers fans is that they will have many more years to enjoy watching Haliburton play for the Blue & Gold.

Haliburton will play next season on the fourth and final year of his rookie contract before his extension takes effect, a deal that will keep him under contract in Indiana through most of the rest of this decade.

Already an All-Star last year in just his third NBA season, when he led the Pacers in scoring (20.7 points per game), assists (10.4) and steals (1.6), it’s hard to imagine say what the 23-year-old guard could grow into over the course of his contract.

He already rewrote the record books last season, setting a new franchise mark for 3-pointers in a game (10, including the game-winner in a 43-point performance in a Dec. 23 win at Miami), breaking Mark Jackson’s team record . for assists per game average (8.7 in 1997-98), becoming the first player in NBA history to average 20 points and 10 assists while also shooting 40 percent from 3-point range in a season.

As long as Haliburton runs the show, the Pacers will have a must-watch offense. He is a supremely gifted passer, loves to play up tempo and get his teammates involved, and is always a threat to pull up and knock down a shot from anywhere on the court.

But it’s not just Haliburton’s style of play that endears him to fans, teammates and coaches alike. He also carries himself in a way that makes him easy to root for. Haliburton seems to always be bursting with energy. He’s extremely competitive, but he’s also clearly having fun every time he steps on the court, a trait that seemed to rub off on his teammates early last season as the Pacers defied preseason expectations.

Perhaps the most endearing quality of Haliburton—and what has allowed him to build some deep roots in a relatively short time in the organization—is his ability to connect with other people.

“I’ve never been around a more complete, empathetic understanding of what the real world is, loving, taking care of the little people, really committed to community leaders like him,” Pritchard said in his press conference at the end of the season. . “I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen a connector like Tyrese ever. Like ever. He connects with our baller boys, he connects with the president or CEO of a company. He just has this ability to make people feel be comfortable around him.”

Of course, the Pacers want to keep a player like Haliburton as long as possible. But just as importantly for Pacers fans, Haliburton wants to be here.

Haliburton has already done so much in the community. He is surprised fans in local parks, organized his own youth camp and took over hosting the franchise’s annual Come to Our House Season of Giving Dinner.

He visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and hung out with Mario Andretti last year at the 2022 GMR Grand Prix. The boy from Oshkosh, Wisconsin then received honorary Hoosier credentials in May when he drove the pace car at the start of the 2023 Indy 500.

Even in the off season, Haliburton is in town more often. He has been a regular presence at Ascension St. Vincent Center over the past few months, where he has been participating in offseason workouts with several of his teammates.

Even in retirement, Miller’s presence looms large over the Pacers. Arguably the most famous player in franchise history, the Hall of Famer played his entire 18-year career in Indiana, setting seemingly every team record.

Haliburton shares plenty of similarities with Miller, from his lean build to his unorthodox (but highly effective) shot. It is far too early to draw comparisons between the two, especially with Haliburton so early in his career.

But Pacers fans have apparently been looking for a worthy heir to Miller for 20 years. And they just might have found him in Tyrese Haliburton.

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