“I’m sorry for not holding on, but I wasn’t sure we’d ever get a team together to compete for a championship and that’s where all this came from,” Paul George told Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated on why he decided he was going to leave the Indiana Pacers.
George, who went to two Eastern Conference Finals and missed the playoffs just once in his seven years with the Pacers (the season lost to his broken leg), didn’t think winning would be possible in Indiana.
“I kind of felt a rebuild coming,” said George. “I felt like the window had closed. I thought they were going in a different direction and I wanted to go in a different direction.”
Kevin Pritchard, Pacers President of Basketball Operations, would probably disagree with George’s assessment that a rebuild was coming.
“For me, it was a gut punch,” Pritchard said on draft night about learning George’s decision. “It was a total gut punch because we had many conversations over the summer about players that we’d like to add, a little bit of a style we’d like to play. In my opinion, I was very inclusive with George and the message over the summer up until this weekend was, ‘Let’s build a winning team.’ When that came in that he wanted to look at another place, it was a gut punch for us.”
Before Paul George announced that he was leaving, Gordon Hayward was considering a return to his hometown team according to Scott Agness of Vigilant Sports, though he likely would have still chosen to reunite with his Butler head coach Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics.
Perhaps George wasn’t as thrilled with Pritchard’s potential targets as Pritchard thought he was, but Pritchard seemed to think communication between the two was great once he was hired and George even said as much in his now-infamous “I’m a Pacer” interview at a charity softball event just days before his agent told the team he wouldn’t be returning.
“His mind is in the right place in terms of players I want to play with and be around,” said George of Pritchard during the softball event. “It’s going to be tough, as it would be anywhere to attract players so we’ll see how we shape this team up.”
George tells Jenkins that Larry Bird leaving seemed to be the catalyst in George deciding for sure that he was going to be leaving. From Jenkins article:
Throughout 2016, George followed the dog-eared free-agent playbook, betraying little about his future plans. “I straddled the fence,” he says. “‘Let’s see how this team shapes up and we’ll let you know.’ There was no, ‘Hey, I’m sticking around,’ and no, ‘Hey, I’m leaving.’” Not until June, after Pacers president Larry Bird resigned, did he sense a shift in the franchise and in himself. The core that reached the Eastern Conference Finals three years ago—George Hill, David West, Roy Hibbert—were all gone, as was the legendary architect. “Here I am, the last guy, and I kind of felt a rebuild coming,” George says.
Lance Stephenson would probably disagree that George was the last guy here from those teams.
“There’s no right way to handle it,” George said of his decision to leave. “I get the frustration. I get why people are upset. But at the same time, I want the average fan to understand that we only get a small window to play this game and more than anything you want to be able to play for a championship. I wanted to bring that to Indiana. I really did. I love Indiana. That will always be a special place for me and I’m sorry for not holding on. But I wasn’t sure we’d ever get a team together to compete for a championship and that’s where all this came from.”
George says that the Lakers interest is overstated, which if true, will not help Pacers fans remember him fondly as his agent killed any leverage the Pacers had by telling teams he wouldn’t re-sign anywhere but with the Lakers.
“I grew up a Lakers and a Clippers fan,” George told Jenkins. “I idolized Kobe. There will always be a tie here, a connection here. People saying I want to come here, who doesn’t want to play for their hometown? That’s a dream come true, if you’re a kid growing up on the outskirts of L.A., to be the man in your city. But it’s definitely been overstated. For me, it’s all about winning. I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning. I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
George is now saying that other stars would have to be committing to the Lakers for him to want to be there. He’s hopeful that he and Russ can attract a third star to OKC.
“It’s too early for L.A.,” he says. “It would have to be a situation where the ball gets rolling and guys are hopping on. This guy commits, that guy commits. ‘Oh s—, now there’s a team forming.’ It has to be like that.” But the same is true for virtually every locale outside of Oakland. “I’m in OKC, so hopefully me and Russ do a good enough job and make it to the conference finals and love the situation, why not recruit someone to come build it with us? I’m open in this whole process.”
Excuse the Indiana faithful if they’re skeptical of George’s intentions.