The Indiana Pacers’ season is over, and rumors regarding Paul George and the Los Angeles Lakers have already begun. According to Sporting News, George talks about playing for the Lakers in the Pacers’ locker room, and has been doing so for a long time.
“A SoCal native, [George has] been talking about playing for his hometown team, the Lakers, for a long time. He’s never made his long-term intentions a secret within the Pacers’ locker room, according to former teammates. He wants to wear the purple and gold,” reports Sporting News.
George, a free agent after next season (assuming he exercises a player option), would be a godsend for the Lakers. Furthermore, he’s already made it clear he’s not in any mood to commit to the Pacers after being swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers (more on that here).
Los Angeles has all of the leverage in this situation — if George wants to go to L.A., he has the power to do so after next season. It’s a situation reminiscent of Carmelo Anthony in Denver. And like that situation tested and ultimately broke the New York Knicks’ front office — which traded assets for Anthony before the season ended instead of waiting and signing him — this will be the first big test of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka in the Lakers’ front office.
The right move here is easy for the Lakers. Sit back and wait for the summer of 2018. Nothing good can come from giving up young players to get an extra year out of George when you can just wait and have him for free (well, free meaning whatever you have to give up to offload either Luol Deng or Timofey Mozgov’s contract).
The only thing that could potentially derail this is if George makes an All-NBA team next season, which would give a significant leg up to Indiana in free agency from a monetary perspective. In that scenario, Indiana would be able to offer George a significantly higher contract. However, the forward position is stacked right now. Without injuries to at least one of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green or Jimmy Butler, it’s tough for George to get over that hump.
Moreover, if the Lakers lose their pick this season, they can’t trade their 2018 pick thanks to the Stepian Rule and their 2019 pick will go with the 2017 pick. That means they’d be trading multiple players from a young core for an extra year of George, which wouldn’t do much because he wouldn’t have a supporting cast.
As for the Pacers, Larry Bird should be on the phone right now with any team possible (by this, we mean the Celtics who, according to Bill Simmons, made a Godfather offer for George at the trade deadline), to try and move George before the draft. The chances of keeping him just don’t seem to be good enough to risk it, especially if you can get enough capital to reload for a future without him.