Why Cleveland outdid Indiana in free agency
In eras past, the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers faced one another time and time again in the Playoffs. Indiana fell to the 2018 LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in game seven of the first round.
Both teams have since entered a rebuild, and both teams have one of the best young point guards in the NBA. Tyrese Haliburton has changed the trajectory for the Pacers after being traded from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Domantas Sabonis. This offseason, Indiana signed Haliburton to the full rookie scale extension worth up to $205 million over the next five years.
After Haliburton’s first year with Indiana, the team is rightfully looking to build around the fascinating guard.
Entering free agency, the Pacers had plenty of cap space to spend. Their first major move brought Bruce Brown, Jr. of the 2023 NBA Championship Denver Nuggets team to Indianapolis on a two-year, $45 million contract. The massive sticker price may seem alarming, but the Pacers have a team option for the second year. With Brown joining the team, they have a winning player to pair with Haliburton.
Secondly, Indiana sent future second-round picks to New York for Obi Toppin from the Knicks in an unexpected trade. Placing two proven talents next to Haliburton sets the Pacers up for one of their best seasons in recent memory. While they are not a sudden title favorite, Indiana quickly rose up the ranks of the Eastern Conference, getting themselves out of the lowest rung of Central Division teams.
With little to no expectations this offseason, each move by Indiana is only a benefit and plus for their future. Both Brown and Toppin are young players who are still growing more and more valuable as time goes on.
In comparison to their expectations, Cleveland and Indiana may be relatively equal. Indiana was expected to offer a large contract to somebody since they had to spend it somewhere, and they used it wonderfully. In fact, Bruce Brown may be a better player in total than Max Strus. Georges Niang might not have as versatile of an offensive and defensive skill set as Toppin.
Where the Cavaliers have the edge is their overall potential going into next season.
Cleveland is set up for another nearly guaranteed postseason campaign without entering into the luxury tax. Their current team can still be improved upon without a trade. Georges Niang was signed using a majority of Cleveland’s Mid-Level Exception, leaving more than $3 million still available. Additionally, the Cavaliers will have their $4.5 million Bi-Annual Exception at their disposal during the regular season.
With numerous All-Star level players, improving significantly and keeping financial flexibility is a near miracle offseason. The Cavaliers may find themselves to be one of the cheapest contenders across the entire Association after this free agency. That cannot be understated, and it is what sets them apart from the Pacers in terms of free agency success. Undoubtedly, this bodes well for a team expecting to extend Evan Mobley for the most money and years they possibly can.