Rumors confirmed: George bound for L.A.
In revealing his intentions, Paul George revealed himself.
And it isn’t a good look, either for George or the Pacers.
Three days after George publicly declared his top priority was to bring a championship to Indiana, he effectively made that impossible.
George reportedly has informed the Pacers, through agent Aaron Mintz, that he will opt out of the final season of his contract after 2017-18, become a free agent and leave the franchise with every intention of signing with his hometown Lakers. The report came from the most reliable of NBA sources, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical on Yahoo! Sports.
“George hasn’t requested a trade before he can opt out of his 2018-19 contract,” Wojnarowski reported, “but did have his agent, Aaron Mintz, tell new Indiana president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard that he wanted to be forthright on his plans and spare the franchise any confusion about his intentions, league sources told The Vertical.”
Whatever his intent, George has tied the Pacers into a Gordian Knot.
If they try to trade George, he has decimated his value to every team other than the Lakers. Who would give up anything of substance for a one-year rental? And the Lakers have no motivation to offer up anything now, knowing they will simply be able to sign George next July.
If they keep George, they risk undermining a full season with the fan base, not to mention the rest of the league, fully aware their best player has one foot out the door.
Trading him for anything resembling equivalent value is now exponentially more difficult. Keeping him would leave the team in an impossible situation.
It’s a lose-lose scenario, but they have little option other than to trade him, and quickly. Even a bad trade, now, would be better than keeping a player that doesn’t want to be here.
This from a guy who Thursday night pledged at least temporary allegiance to the Pacers and said he would take his time before making any decision about his future.
“I’m a Pacer. There’s no way around that. This is my team, my group and this is where I’m at,” he said at a charity softball game at Victory Field. “... What I’ve always been preaching, moreso now is having guys I can win with and wanting to win. It came from the heart and very sincere, wanting to bring that to Indiana. That’s where my heart is going to always be at. …
“When I get there, hopefully I’ll be ready to sit down with my family, be ready to sit down with people close to me to make that decision. Again, I have another year to play out before I can even think about that. So we’re going to take this thing slowly. The best part about it is I’m in the driver’s seat.”
He has driven the Pacers into a wall.
The team’s second-leading scorer, point guard Jeff Teague, will become a free agent on July 1. With George out of the picture, remaining with his hometown team may not be enough of a motivator for Teague to re-sign, and he could be inclined to leave for greener pastures.
New team president Kevin Pritchard has a history of success on the trade market, particularly in and around the draft, but the task at hand is daunting, to say the least.
Assuming Wojnarowski’s report is accurate, at least the Pacers now have clarity. George’s communications with Pritchard have left the impression he would wait to see what kind of moves were made to improve the roster before making up his mind.
This gave rise to a belief within the organization that with one or two key additions, the Pacers could climb the bracket in the Eastern Conference next season. If George played well enough to qualify for the All-NBA team, the Pacers could then offer him a massive contract extension in excess of $210 million -- roughly $80 million more than the Lakers could offer -- but also a much better chance to win.
They now have a very different landscape, one that looks like a precipice.
Instead of that win-win scenario, George has essentially revealed he really doesn’t mind losing if he’s able to become an L.A. celebrity. Or maybe he believes he, Lonzo Ball and D’Angelo Russell can turn the Lakers into something other than annual lottery fodder.
The Lakers have averaged 23 wins the past four seasons and were 26-56 last year -- 15 games out of the playoffs, and 16 fewer than the Pacers. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2012 and have since had four coaches, not to mention front office turmoil that has now allegedly been settled with the hiring of Magic Johnson as team president.
Since George joined the Pacers in 2010, they’ve been to the playoffs every year but one -- when George missed almost all of 2014-15 recovering from a broken leg. They’ve won 31 playoff games in that span, more than the Lakers have managed in any of the past four regular seasons.
But that apparently matters little to George, or at least doesn’t matter enough. Even with George, the Lakers don’t immediately become a contender. They might make the playoffs, but have no hope of competing with the Warriors. Hell, they were 25 games behind the crosstown Clippers last season.
No, this isn’t about winning, and that’s where George might’ve actually done the Pacers a little bit of a favor, however unintended.
They’ve been operating under the assumption that his biggest priority was winning a championship, that he was a foundational player worthy of being built upon.
These next few steps won’t be easy, and almost certainly will be painful. But at least now the Pacers know who Paul George really is and, more importantly, what he is not.
(Paul George photo by Frank McGrath/Pacers)