How Tyrese Haliburton is embracing his role as Pacers franchise cornerstone

The sea change for Tyrese Haliburton, from second fiddle in Sacramento to franchise cornerstone in Indiana, has presented little turbulence. He’s taken the wheel with steady hands, where Haliburton’s biggest hurdle in adapting to the Pacers may be contemplating his own personal mode of transportation.

The third-year guard purchased a Tesla when living in the shadow of Silicon Valley, only to find far fewer charging stations in the Midwest.

“There was part of me at one point that wanted to get rid of it,” Haliburton told Yahoo Sports. “But I really do love it. I feel like it's my one strong contribution to the environment.”

Technology has always called him, as if by an electric current altogether. A young Haliburton would return home from elementary school to burn CDs for his father off LimeWire. He doesn’t merely play video games, but learns to modify his favorites, coding new characters that weren’t originally programmed after mastering the games’ intricacies.

Of late, Haliburton and his girlfriend have cracked open Rock Band 3, splitting its pixelated atoms to replace a library of classics with Drake and Megan Thee Stallion hits. A round of eBay purchases has their setup armed with enough drums and microphones to vanquish any challenger.

A podcast is Haliburton’s next venture. The point guard is launching a show dubbed “Get Minted with Tyrese Haliburton,” presented by Autograph, the Web3 brand co-founded by Tom Brady. Haliburton plans to produce weekly episodes discussing the growing NFT and blockchain space, starring guests such as Tony Hawk, whose iconic video game filled hours of a young Haliburton’s recreational time.

He’s fashioning an audio program from scratch while driving an NBA franchise as it rebuilds from the bottom.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 10: Tyrese Haliburton #0 of the Indiana Pacers dribbles as Bruce Brown #1 of the Brooklyn Nets defends during the second half at Barclays Center on April 10, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Nets won 134-126. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Tyrese Haliburton is averaging 21.9 points, 9.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds for the Pacers. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) (Sarah Stier via Getty Images)

“On the basketball court I've been given the reins to help lead this organization, to help lead us on the floor, to achieve our ultimate goal,” Haliburton said. “And here, I’ve been given the reins to shape the episodes, and to pick the guests and pick the questions that I'm asking.”

His influence in Indiana has stretched well beyond those painted lines. The franchise values his mind for the passing lanes it processes and the person it has shaped. In July, Haliburton joined the Pacers contingent that met with Suns center Deandre Ayton in free agency. There is no universal manual for assembling a title contender. But finding bookends of a starting lineup, who fit snug like puzzle pieces, would have framed a clearer picture. And Haliburton knows just how an agile, brute of a giant can pave freeways through opposing defenses.

“Tyrese has one of the highest basketball IQs I’ve ever been around in terms of pick-and-roll reads,” said James Kane, an assistant coach during Haliburton’s Iowa State tenure who’s now on staff at Dayton.

Center of the franchise

Haliburton boarded a private flight from Indianapolis for Santa Barbara, California, alongside team president Kevin Pritchard, general manager Chad Buchanan and head coach Rick Carlisle. A stone’s throw from the sandy shores, the traveling party filed into a back room of Lucky’s Steakhouse, partially owned by Indiana majority partner Herb Simon.

Hidden from the dining room of white-clothed tables, not six months since the Pacers knighted Haliburton as their franchise steward, the 22-year-old painted a detailed vision of their dreamy high-screen pairing and helped sell Ayton on a future in the Fieldhouse — that is until Phoenix swiftly matched Indiana’s four-year, $133 million offer sheet.

“I just felt like we would be a good fit together,” Haliburton said. “It meant a lot that they would bring me and we had a good conversation.”

Myles Turner remains as Indiana’s big man of the moment, although the Pacers center has been involved in various trade conversations since the summer. Turner still ranks among the strongest league-wide candidates to be moved ahead of this February’s trade deadline, with his contract set to expire at season’s end.

After Ayton, there will be more targets to team with the floor general. The Pacers’ brass is rightfully excited about the early showings of No. 6 pick Ben Mathurin and particularly excited about his early showings next to Haliburton.

“He is the franchise guy, very, very openly,” said one rival executive of Haliburton. “They have handed him the keys, and they’re betting he can be their alpha guy.”

When former Kings head coach Luke Walton dialed Carlilse, singing the praises of his Sacramento video coordinator, Indiana quickly hired Isaac Yacob to lead the film room. Not only was he resourceful and dogged, Walton advised, but Yacob developed a trusting relationship with Haliburton and Pacers guard Buddy Hield during their shared days in Sacramento.

“He sends me clips when I'm asking what sets teams like to run, how these guys played last night, and he sends me all my shots, all my minutes,” Haliburton said. “We have constant conversations. I think it’s really good when I have something that I wanna show Rick, that visually I can't just find, so I know I can go to him that I know he can find. You know, a play we ran when we were in Sacramento, or maybe an action I liked when I was in college. He can go find that quick and get that to Rick so we can see it visually. So it's kind of a great partnership we have with each other.”

And with a simple tug of his ear, the Pacers can orchestrate a double-drag screen action, plus a sneaky back screen at the nail, to uncork a lob over any unsuspecting foe — nearly identical to what Haliburton executed with the Kings.

“The trade, it really presented the opportunity of a career for him. And he’s jumped on it,” Carlisle said. “He has embraced it. He’s done everything that you would want him to do. He’s worked very hard on his body. He’s worked on building relationships with his teammates and coaching staff and the entire organization. You name it, he’s been tremendous.”

Haliburton has obliterated the team’s required number of community appearances. When scouts flocked to Ames during his injured sophomore season at Iowa State, they saw a lottery talent, out for the year with a fractured wrist, still cheering his teammates during practices. After losses, Haliburton would often report to Kane’s office, visibly sick and disheveled from a sleepless night.

A handful of defeats do loom on the horizon. Haliburton’s Pacers will crawl before they can walk, let alone climb back up the Eastern Conference hierarchy where Indiana has traditionally stood tall.

His path as a franchise focal point has just begun. There have been shining examples of those players before him, those who have entered that extra world. Those who would make for a damn good podcast guest, when you think about it.

“If you find the right people,” Haliburton said, “you can find those answers on the exact steps to anything.”