Whether or not Paul George stays in Oklahoma City, the Indiana Pacers already won the last summer’s blockbuster trade.
George could stay as a member of the Thunder as their GM Sam Presti felt “really encouraged” by his dialogue with him (doesn’t that sound familiar, Indiana?). Or, he could do what everyone expects and leave for the Lakers or some other team in free agency. We’ve already heard the rumblings that he’s “gone” as ESPN radio host Ryen Russillo said recently, but it doesn’t matter which way he ends up going. The Pacers are better off now than they would have been by keeping George, even a version of himself that wanted to stay.
No one is making jokes about the Pacers anymore (shout-out to the OKC Police Department, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, who has deleted a tweet from early in the season that included a video from The Jump where she said it was ludicrous to say the Pacers were better off without George, and countless others. The Pacers silenced the critics and proved everyone wrong.
“If you don’t respect the Indiana Pacers now,” Victor Oladipo told reporters after the series against Cleveland, “then I have no respect for you.”
Oladipo’s first season in Indiana was better than George’s final one (both by individual and team success) and he’s two years younger. Oladipo will likely make an All-NBA team and an All-Defensive team this season and the city of Indianapolis has embraced him more than it ever did George.
“Victor is a superstar player,” Kevin Pritchard said in his end-of-season press conference, “but … as good of a player that he is, he’s also one of the most unique human beings around.”
Oladipo’s infectious positivity set a new culture for Indiana that they hope to continue to build on and Pritchard praised his ability to “hit the reset button” after a bad game and to always stay positive in the face of adversity.
“His positivity pulls everybody up,” said Pritchard. “He’s totally a foundational piece for a franchise.”
Pritchard pointed out how much his work ethic will force all the young guys to try and match that level of commitment to getting better and how much of a blessing it is to have the team’s best player to also be the team’s hardest worker.
“Every other player on our team knows that they better fall in line or they don’t look right,” said Pritchard. “You can’t come in and say you aren’t going to work that hard. You better follow him.”
George with all his talent was never that type of leader. You can compare the two players ad nauseum but in the end only one thing matters: Oladipo wants to be here and George didn’t. This emerging superstar in Oladipo alone would have been a coup for the Pacers, but that’s not all they got in the deal.
Domantas Sabonis is a promising young big man that will be entering just his third season in the league next year. He and Oladipo are two of the three players (along with Myles Turner) that Pritchard see as the guys that they’re building around for the future.
Just because the Pacers won in the deal doesn’t mean the Thunder lost either. You can argue that OKC already won the trade too. Russell Westbrook re-signed with the team after they acquired George and Carmelo Anthony. That alone is a win for the Thunder; they kept an MVP-caliber player in OKC. If George stays, it continues to be a win for them but it doesn’t change how the Pacers feel about their return in the deal. Oladipo and Sabonis didn’t perform tremendously in their lone seasons with OKC and without a change in their role were unlikely to improve at anywhere near the rate that they did with the Pacers.
“I wasn’t surprised because we gave Victor that contract,” said Presti when asked about those players success this season. “A lot of people made fun of us when we did that and we also traded a significant player to get Domantas … I couldn’t be happier for those guys … We want players that are from Oklahoma to go on and have success in other places. We’re not like 5-year-olds rooting against people.”
Maybe we can all take a lesson from Presti. Yes, George could have handled his exit from Indiana better (he said as much himself), but in the end, would anyone in Indiana wish he did it any differently considering the results? The Pacers just had one of their most unforgettable seasons ever.
It could have been a much darker year. Kevin Durant left the Thunder in free agency with them unable to get anything in return. The same happened with Gordon Hayward and the Jazz. The Pacers could have gone through another season of speculation and different reports via local and national media as George said one thing and his agent would be the source for a contradicting report. The team likely would have continued to underperform as the cloud of his impending departure loomed over the locker room only for the same thing to happen this summer in free agency as with those other players.
George’s decision was a “gut punch” and his agent’s desire to kill any leverage Indiana had in possible deals was endlessly frustrating, but why continue to focus any energy on him now? We don’t have to root for PG-13 like we used to, but we don’t have to actively root against him either. Perhaps, it can just be apathy. Who cares where George ends up playing? We don’t need to be petty anymore (as fun as it is). Indiana’s moved on.
The Pacers already won the trade.