INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers tried to acquire a veteran wing before last week’s NBA draft. When that didn’t work, they shifted to Plan B — free agency.
Less than 30 minutes after teams were allowed to negotiate with free agents Friday, the Pacers and Dorchester native Bruce Brown Jr. agreed on a two-year contract worth $45 million, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Friday. The person, who requested anonymity because the deal has not yet been announced publicly, said the deal includes a team option for 2024-25.
“We were very, very aggressive pursuing [a trade],” general manager Chad Buchanan said last week. “There were about six guys who fit our timeline and the way we play. Unfortunately, they were not available. We started looking at other opportunities that were potentially available, that probably gave us four or five more wins next year but probably limited us in the long run.”
So they bided time and waited to make a rare, splashy, early move in free agency.
They cashed in on their salary-cap position by taking advantage of the league rules that put NBA champion Denver in a bind to re-sign Brown, a key cog in their title run. The Nuggets wanted Brown so badly that during the city’s recent championship parade, coach Mike Malone told the roaring crowd Brown wasn’t going anywhere.
Instead, he wound up with Indiana because Denver couldn’t offer anything close to the Pacers.
Brown made $6.5 million last season and the Pacers were one of the league’s few teams that was so far below the cap threshold, luxury tax, or new second apron, they took a big swing for the fences.
What does Brown do for the Pacers?
He’s another young, emerging player seemingly ready for a breakout season and he’s the third defensive-minded guy Indiana has added since last week. The Pacers used their two first-round picks on power forward Jarace Walker and wing Ben Sheppard.
Coach Rick Carlisle made it clear what the Pacers needed to do during the offseason after Indiana allowed 119.5 points, the second-most in the league.
“With the excitement that’s been generated from the positives of this season, we must be very forthright about our challenges,” Carlisle said at April’s season-ending news conference. “Our challenges remain defense and rebounding.”
Brown joins a roster that already includes popular All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton, two-time NBA blocks champion Myles Turner, and all-rookie swingman Bennedict Mathurin.
Last season, Brown started 31 regular-season games for the Nuggets, posting averages of 11.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.4 assists.
But Indiana might not be finished making moves.
Buddy Hield, last season’s starting wing, could be on the trading block after finishing tied for fifth in 3-pointers per game (3.6) while shooting 45.8 percent from beyond the arc. He turns 31 in December, is on an expiring contract and could become viable scoring asset on a title contender.
Chris Duarte, an all-rookie guard in 2021-22, also could be on the move following an injury-plagued season put him behind Haliburton, Mathurin, rookie Andrew Nembhard, and veteran T.J. McConnell on the depth chart.
Plus, the Pacers are still $48.1 million below the luxury tax and have extra draft picks, too.