Was letting go of Haliburton worth it for the Kings?

Published February 12, 2022, 9:00 PMYoyo Sarmenta

In a stunning move, the Kings sent a potential franchise cornerstone in Tyrese Haliburton to the Pacers.


Have you ever had a feeling of uneasiness after you bought something pretty expensive online? After you double-checked the price, considered the pros and cons, and debated whether it was a need or a want, you eventually went on and hit the confirm button. 

You then convince yourself and say “yeah, that was a good buy.” But sometimes that feeling of uncertainty lingers, doesn’t it? Especially given the steep price that you had to pay. You don’t really regret what you bought, but you have to believe that what you’re getting will be worth it. 

That same feeling of doubt and uncertainty – that pull you get in your gut when you’re not quite sure of something – is what came to mind hearing the recent trade by the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings. 

The Pacers sent Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday, plus a 2023 second-round pick to Sacramento in exchange for Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and Tristan Thompson. 

Right off the bat, it’s clear on paper that the Kings got the best player out of that deal. Sabonis is a two-time All-Star and one of the most coveted players heading into this year’s trade deadline. And yet there’s that nagging feeling of uneasiness. 

Who made the better decision – the Kings or the Pacers? Was Sabonis never going to get it done in Indianapolis? Were the Kings unwilling to wait for Haliburton to develop further? 

You can actually consider it a good trade on both sides, sure, but at what cost?

The uncertainty comes from losing one of the most promising young players in the league in Haliburton. Drafted 12th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, the multi-faceted guard has blossomed into a reliable big-bodied playmaker. 

Haliburton had a strong rookie campaign, coming in as a distant third in last season’s Rookie of the Year race between Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball. Even during that first season, you could already see flashes of Haliburton’s potential. There was a smoothness to his game, a rhythm to which he sees plays before they unfold. And most importantly, there was a certain spark in the manner he went out and competed every game. 

This season, Haliburton developed his skill set even further. His playmaking prowess progressed, combining his 6-foot-5 frame and his vision to find teammates. He had exceptional chemistry with the Kings’ big men, whether it was Richaun Holmes or Marvin Bagley III finishing the play. He became a more reliable threat from the perimeter as well. He now has a side-step 3 in his bag and he pulls it out whenever he needs to. 

Before the trade, Haliburton averaged 14.3 points and 3.9 rebounds. He also dished 7.4 assists per game, good for 11th in the league. Defensively, he uses his long arms to disrupt passing lanes to come up with 1.7 steals per outing, tied for fifth overall in the league. 

One would have thought that the 21-year-old Haliburton was going to be one of the cornerstones of the Kings’ future. He may not evolve into a top-30 player in the league, but you can’t take out the possibility of a couple of All-Star selections in the future. He might even become the second or third option for a contender. Who knows? He may not reach superstar level, yet you can’t rule out that he has the makings of a player who will benefit a winning team. His overall talent and budding potential were what made him something special to watch out for. 

The promise of tomorrow is what makes the recent trade a bit harder to digest. 

Indiana let go of an established star in Sabonis while getting a young prospect in Haliburton. This season, Sabonis is averaging 19.0 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. In his first game with the Kings, he put up numbers right in his alley with 22 points, 14 boards, and five dimes against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Lithuanian-American center is one of the premier big men in the game, with a well-packaged skillset that fits perfectly in today’s NBA. He’s only 25 years old and bound to get better. Then again, the Pacers now have a bright future in Haliburton. 

The Kings, meanwhile, opted to focus on the present as they hope to squeeze into the playoffs. They got a solid player in Sabonis, as well as workable pieces in Lamb and Holiday. They double-checked the price, considered the pros and cons, and debated whether it was a need or a want, and went on and hit the confirm button. They said to themselves, “yeah, that was a good buy.”

But there’s still that feeling of uncertainty, a pull in the gut that you’re not quite sure if everything was worth it. 

As for Indiana, they got a young stud and a star-in-the-making in Haliburton. Under the tutelage of Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, he can continue learning from one of the best basketball mentors. Maybe they saw that the frontcourt tandem of Myles Turner and Sabonis wasn’t going to cut it and decided to go all-in towards the future. 

Sabonis is off to a terrific start with the Kings as they try to make it into the Play-In Tournament. Haliburton, on the other hand, had a solid line in his first game with the Pacers on Saturday, tallying 19 points (8-for-12 field goals), three rebounds, six assists, and two steals. 

Time will tell which team made the better investment.