Earlier today, the All-NBA teams were announced. This was an important event for the Pacers franchise as they found out whether Paul George would qualify for the new Designated Player Extension that would allow the Pacers to extend George to a significantly larger contract than he would be able to get from any other team if he chose to leave in free agency after next season.
Unfortunately for George and the Pacers, George didn’t even come close to making one of the three All-NBA teams. George finished with 40 points from the voting, while Jimmy Butler grabbed the final forward spot with 102 points. Draymond Green was the other third-team forward and finished with 134 points as he was boosted by his positional versatility that garnered him many votes as a center.
So, now that the Pacers have lost this key tool to potentially convince George to stick around by signing an extension this summer, what do they do now?
Meet with Paul George and his agent and have the most important conversation in franchise history. According to the Indy Star, George is expected to mull over his options this weekend before meeting with the Pacers, so this is already in the works.
Pritchard should start with the obvious question when the meeting takes place: are you really hellbent on joining the Los Angeles Lakers? George’s agent spread the rumors that it was Lakers or bust to NBA GMs near the deadline this season, but this could have just been a tactic to prevent his client from being traded and losing any possibility of the super-max contract through the DPE. This kills the Pacers leverage in any potential deal if true as teams will be very reluctant to offer much in a trade for George if it’s just a single season rental and if you’re the Lakers, you don’t want to give up much if you think he’s just going to join your team as a free agent anyway.
Sidenote: I’ve never fully bought the Lakers narrative despite the rumors, the heavy recruitment from Jimmy Kimmel and the winks from Magic Johnson. Sure, George is a guy from California and a huge Kobe Bryant fan, but he’s also said multiple times in the past that he grew up a big fan of the Clippers. The Lakers are also a very bad team right now. George has said repeatedly that he wants to win and get back to those days of competing in the conference finals and presumably farther than that. His path to contention with the current makeup of the Lakers doesn’t scream instant success.
The Lakers in that loaded western conference would still be a star player or two away from having a shot at contending with George added to the roster. There’s no guarantees that any of their young guys or whoever they take at the number two pick will eventually be a star, and does George really want to wait for them to grow up during the prime years of his career? It would make a lot more sense for George to want to go to a team that is already in contention.
Kevin Durant didn’t leave the Thunder to join a rebuilding effort. He left to create perhaps the most talented super team of all time with the Golden State Warriors. LeBron James didn’t abandon Cleveland to start from scratch; he teamed up with his Team USA friends to win championships. Does he really want to go to Los Angeles just to sell more shoes and visit Kimmel’s late night show on the regular? It’s hard to see him wanting to go to LA if he wants to win in the near future.
Anyway, if George wants to leave and it actually is only to the Lakers, the Pacers are screwed as long as his agent keeps letting everyone know about it. A team desperate for a star may still make an offer thinking that they can woo him to stay in that one season (Sixers, Hawks, Nuggets and Suns all either made offers at the deadline and/or have been trying to get a star player for awhile), but it’s unlikely to garner much in return for the Pacers compared to a situation where George was open to re-signing to a team that traded for him other than the Lakers.
George tweeted and deleted this reply with no text to a Bleacher Report article earlier today that mentions that the Celtics should trade the number one pick for someone like George or Butler if they can according to Paul Pierce. It likely means nothing besides George reads Bleacher Report articles sometimes, but it nevertheless caused a frenzy of freak outs on Twitter. If this really was a signal that George was ready to leave, it would at least say he was open to other teams besides the Lakers.
I don’t think George wants to leave Indiana empty-handed. George does keep saying how he loves Indiana and that it’s a great place to play basketball. He has to know that he’ll be vilified if he simply walks away in free agency, leaving the Pacers with nothing but memories.
If George does want to go, hopefully he’ll be upfront about it and give the Pacers an opportunity to get something in return. If he’s actually open to signing with other teams than the Lakers, and as long as the agent stops telling NBA GMs otherwise now that he didn’t qualify for the DPE, the Pacers have the opportunity to create a bidding war among teams to get as good of a deal as possible.
It’s also possible, though no one in the NBA world seems to think so, that George wants to remain in Indiana, even after not making an All-NBA team. He’s got a signature shoe and a bunch of endorsement deals. He’s not really suffering by playing in a small market, and the Pacers so far have played LeBron James and the Cavs better than anyone else in the East to this point.
George could also still potentially qualify for the DPE after next season if he makes an All-NBA team, and if he plays like he did from the beginning of March through the playoffs throughout the next season, he’s easily making one of those teams. If George really does want to surpass Reggie Miller in terms of legacy in Indiana, have his number in the rafters like the press release for his Tamika Catchings PG1 colorways said and that big contract is something he wants an opportunity to earn, then the Pacers could take the huge risk of going into this season with that plan in mind.
If the wheels fall off during the season and the team is struggling or George can’t match his play from the end of last season, the Pacers could look to trade George at the deadline if it becomes clear he’s leaving. There are obvious risks here, and the Pacers would have little leverage in any potential deal at that late point, but this is also the only scenario that has the chance of a guaranteed star on the Pacers roster past next season.