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Pacers not trading George, nor should they

With the trade deadline approaching,  teams are expressing interest in Paul George. (Getty Images)

We can theorize, hypothesize, even proselytize all we want.

It isn’t happening. 

The Pacers aren’t trading Paul George. Certainly not this week. Almost certainly not ever.

That not only is the proper course to take, it is the only one that makes sense.

This is only a topic of discussion for three reasons of wildly varying credibility.

>> The NBA trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m. so, of course you want to get rid of your best player while you can.

>> Reports leaked out in recent days that both Boston and Sacramento were interested in acquiring George. No kidding. The breaking news would be if there was a team or two in the league that wasn’t interested. 

>> Fans (and media) are nervous about the fact he hasn’t committed to signing a contract extension with the Pacers, assuming (safely) he opts out of his current deal after the 2017-18 season. This cannot be so easily dismissed. While the Pacers hold all of the cards, financially -- they can offer him an extension of roughly $72-75 million more than any other team -- that advantage could be mitigated if the team continues to be mired in mediocrity. George could pull a Kevin Durant and sacrifice some cash to chase a championship elsewhere. It’s an option made more viable by the incomprehensible, empowering sums of money players are now earning. Viable, yes. But hardly automatic.

Here’s what Larry Bird, Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers are banking on: themselves. They have assembled a very nice core of George, Jeff Teague and Myles Turner, three players who if kept together and properly built around, should be able to compete at a very high level for a few years. 

The hardest thing to do in any sport, but particularly in the NBA these days, is to assemble a nucleus of that quality to build around.. That’s done. Why undo it? Because trading George now would almost certainly mean losing Teague in July, when he becomes a free agent. As much as he loves his hometown, Teague didn’t come here to be on a rebuilding team well into his 30s.

Priority one this week is tweaking, not deconstructing. They no doubt are seeking out deals that would bring in better complementary players -- a physical big man and/or a threatening shooter would be nice. But they are not considering deals involving the core of George, Teague and Turner.

None of this is an attempt to contravene frustration with the current state of the Pacers in general and George in particular. They have not taken a step forward, and a valid argument can be made they have gone the other direction despite the apparent upgrade in talent. George’s play has been wildly inconsistent, both in productivity and energy.

But the issues are not his alone. Teague has turtled. Turner isn’t ready to play center. The bench hasn’t been the anticipated strength, and the defense and rebounding have been so bad the plan to become a more up-tempo team was put on hold weeks ago.

These are all bumps in the road, not doomsday scenarios. The sky is gray, but is not falling.

If you think the Pacers are frustrating now, consider the alternative: dumping a top-15 player and trying to rebuild with teenagers. There’s a reason you see the same teams in the lottery year after year. 

Take a look at the past three drafts: only three of the 50 players taken in the top 10 from 2014-16 are starting for a team currently in playoff position, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown in Boston, Emmanuel Mudiay in Denver. And none of those are franchise-changers. They’re nice pieces, playing complementary roles while others do the heavy lifting. 

As for the rest: you can catch their act in the Rising Stars challenge, maybe even a handful in the All-Star Game. But the overwhelming majority are watching when the playoffs roll around.

They call it the lottery for a very good reason: while you do have a chance to hit it big, the odds are very long, and you certainly aren’t going to make a living playing this game with any regularity.

Trading George would not be a fix, but a fail.

Just look at what Sacramento got for DeMarcus Cousins: one nice draft pick (top-three protected), role players and spare parts. By all accounts, this was a player -- in George’s draft class, falling into the same contractual category -- that wanted to re-sign, and that the Kings intended to keep. But all of a sudden that package came along and they couldn’t resist. Really? Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi and Langston Galloway, protected first-rounder and a second-rounder in 2017?

They got a plate covered in sauce, but missing the steak.

Surely, George would fetch more if the Pacers were so inclined, but that’s a pretty low bar for an elite player.

The Pacers are tasked not with taking calls about George (or Teague or Turner) but making them about everybody else. The Pacers need energy, need toughness, need some personalities that will bring life to a dormant locker room. 

Having acquired talent, Bird must now assemble a team.

And that is much more easily done when the foundation is already in place.


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