The Pacers’ Paul George problem just got significantly larger. Indiana’s lone superstar has reportedly told the team that he will be leaving the organization next year in free agency, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
George’s desire to go home and join the Lakers has been a poorly kept secret around the league for some time now and those rumors only got more steam when he became part of trade talks at this past deadline. Woj reports that George let the Pacers know that he plans on opting out and signing elsewhere next summer, likely with the Lakers.
George hasn’t requested a trade before he can opt out of his 2018-19 contract, 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.
The Pacers were hopeful to convince him they could compete, but now it seems like their focus has to shift to trying to get some kind of value for their star so he does not leave without them receiving any compensation. George not making the All-NBA team this year, killing the Pacers chance to give him a supermax extension, was effectively the nail in the coffin for keeping their star. While this will help them plan for the future and not overspend this summer on role players in an effort to keep him around, the problem is that, now that it’s known he plans to leave and the Lakers are the heavy favorite to land him, the trade market for George (despite his status as a superstar) will likely not be robust.
The Lakers would be foolish to give up much for George now when they could simply land him next summer (they just have to learn from the Knicks deal for Carmelo Anthony). As Wojnarowski noted, the Lakers are George’s “preferred” destination next summer. Los Angeles would be wise to instead focus on maneuvering assets for more immediate help for George when he arrives in 2018, and making sure that their roster is in position to begin contending. They also need to move one of Timofey Mozgov or Luol Deng in order to clear max space for George.
That would be the best bet for a Lakers-Pacers deal involving George. If the Pacers would take on either Mozgov or Deng’s contract along with some young assets, they might be able to squeeze something out of George before he leaves. That’s because the rest of the league won’t want to give up much for a player with his heart set on L.A.
The Celtics now have a great deal of ammunition to land George in the form of future draft picks — which will look great to the Pacers who will undoubtedly have to go into rebuild mode — but Boston probably wouldn’t give up much to land a star that has plans on going elsewhere in the summer. Boston was linked in trade talks for George at the deadline, but those fell through and it’s hard to imagine Indiana getting the same kinds of offers now.
The Pacers made their play for George, hoping to show they could be competitive with the Cavs, but the first round sweep at the hands of LeBron James and company — even if a fairly competitive sweep — apparently didn’t help enough. One has to wonder now if the Pacers could go back and do it again, if they’d take a deal like what the Hawks reportedly offered, which included four first round picks.