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Paul George won’t commit to signing extension with the Pacers

The Indiana Pacers have been “optimistic” about keeping Paul George long term. George’s focus is playing on a team that can win a championship.

“As I told Larry (Bird), I always want to play on a winning team,” George told ESPN’s Marc Stein. “I always want to be part of a team that has a chance to win it [all]. That’s important. Say what you want; I want to compete for something. It’s frustrating just playing the game for stats or for numbers or to showcase yourself. Man, I want a chance to play for a chance to win a championship.”

Whether that can happen in Indiana is a debatable issue. The Pacers are a perennial playoff team. They’ve only failed to qualify once for the postseason in George’s career. That was in the 2014-15 campaign which saw him play only six games.

But Indiana has never won an NBA Championship and has only qualified for the Finals once. That was well before the George era. For three straight years, George’s Pacers were a strong playoff rival of the LeBron James era Miami Heat. But each time, Miami prevailed.

Indiana enters the All-Star break as the Eastern Conference’s No. 6 seed at 29-28. Realistically, if the Pacers are going to seriously compete for a championship (let alone win one) during George’s career, they’ll have to do a lot more than just retain him.

Fans of Indiana can take some solace in the fact that winning a championship with the Pacers remains a priority for George.

“I wanted to be the first and want to be the first to be able to bring a championship to Indiana,” he said to Stein. “So that’s still on my mind … and something I definitely want to achieve in Indiana.”

That puts the ball in the Pacers’ court. To retain George, they’ll have to build a team that he thinks can win a championship. It’s a clear, but challenging mission.