Larry Bird has been busy working the phones as the trade deadline approaches. While no deals seem imminent, lots of rumors have spread about the Pacers and what they’re looking to do before the deadline.
First, it was reported that the Pacers have been shopping their first-round pick to see if they can get a rotation-level player to help the Pacers push farther into the playoffs, and players like Brook Lopez and Jahlil Okafor have been mentioned in the past couple days.
The Indy Star reported just last night that the Pacers were still looking to add a rotational player and that Paul George would not be traded, which lined up with countless other reporters saying that the Pacers were not interested in dealing George. Nate Taylor said that his sources all told him they were looking to build around George, Jeff Teague, and Myles Turner.
Today, the Woj bomb dropped.
The Pacers are assessing the trade market for Paul George. What? What?? This hasn’t been in line with anything we’ve heard from many reliable sources in the past few weeks where the answer has always been that the Pacers were not taking calls on George or looking to trade him. But when Woj and The Vertical reports something, it makes you question everything.
Sam Amick of USA Today reported that George met with Herb Simon, Pacers owner, during the All-Star break over dinner and reiterated his position that he wants to stay in Indiana, but only if they’re contending for a title. This is something George has said since August, so it should be no surprise. George wants to be bigger than Reggie Miller, but he also wants to do that by doing the thing Reggie could never do: win a title.
The Indy Star’s Taylor says that the dinner was “celebratory and not George delivering an ultimatum.”
Even so, this has seemed to lead Bird to test the waters on what they could get for Paul George, but the deal doesn’t seem to likely to happen at the deadline according to multiple news sources seen in the tweets below. Still, it’s a big step from “untouchable” to “gauging the market.”
Meanwhile, the Pacers are still looking for options to add a rotational piece to the team for this season. Amick reported the Pacers are showing interest in Okafor, Aaron Afflalo of the Kings and Ed Davis and Allen Crabbe of the Trailblazers. Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee also reported of the Pacers interest in Afflalo.
Both Afflalo and Crabbe could help with the lack of wing depth on the Pacers, but Crabbe just signed a mammoth contract last off-season that has him making $18.5 million per season and Afflalo is a less-appealing get from the Kings than Ben McLemore. McLemore has the rest of this season left on his rookie deal and will be a restricted free agent next year, while Afflalo is much older and on a 2-year deal worth $25 million.
None of these players are likely to convince George that they’re ready to contend for a title this season, so the Pacers will be pressured this summer to further add to the team in order to be ready to contend as George approaches unrestricted free agency in 2018 when he opts out of his current contract.
If the Pacers don’t feel like they’ll be able to do enough during the off-season to get to the point where they are ready to contend by 2018, that may be when they start to look more seriously at trading George and rebuilding around Turner and Teague. Gauging the market now gives them some idea of what they’ll be able to get if that’s the road they choose down the line.
George did tell reporters after the Pacers first practice back from the All-Star break that he “would love to” finish his career in Indiana, he expects to be in a Pacers uniform after the deadline has passed tomorrow and that his sole focus right now is getting this team back on track for the rest of the season.
The Pacers will also have a lot of reasons for George to want to stay in he makes an All-NBA team either this year or next as he would qualify for the Designated Player Extension that would push a potential extension over $200 million. If he does not make the All-NBA team in the next two years, his max number would only be around $120 million. The DPE goes away if George is traded.