Before today, the Paul George to the Lakers’ rumors were a case of “where there’s smoke there’s fire”. Multiple reports of George “wanting” to play for the Lakers and “strongly considering” returning to his southern California roots when he hit free agency in the summer of 2018.
On Sunday, however, the George rumors became a case of “look at that fire over there!” That’s because the innuendo and suspicion has been replaced with a hard statement from George to Pacers’ management. Well, at least that’s what Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting:
All-Star forward Paul George has informed the Indiana Pacers that he plans to become a free agent in the summer of 2018 and will leave the franchise – preferably for the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources told The Vertical…
…In the past 24 hours, Pritchard has become more aggressive in pursuing trades for George, league sources told The Vertical. Pritchard has yet to show an inclination to engage the Lakers, but has discussed deals with several teams – including Cleveland – in which the expectation of teams would be that George is a “one-year rental.” The Cavaliers are devoid of the kind of young players and future picks that Indiana might want in return for George, and George has never mentioned the Cavaliers as an intriguing destination.
Wait, there’s more:
George plans to play out the 2017-18 season with Indiana, but wants to give the organization the chance to plan appropriately for its future – which George told the team won’t include him, league sources said.
George’s desire to join the Lakers has massive repercussions on the free-agent market in 2018. Under president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka, George would represent the first NBA star in years to choose the Lakers in free agency. As Los Angeles’ management reshapes its roster, George could be a lure to recruit other top available players to the Lakers.
Between then and now, the pressure will mount for the Pacers to formulate a trade with the Lakers in the near future, because the risk of losing a star of George’s stature for nothing next summer is potentially devastating. If management takes George at his word about wanting to join the Lakers in 2018, it may be cornered into making the best possible trade it can with Los Angeles now, squeezing whatever value out of the Lakers that Indiana can acquire in a deal for George.
Okay, let’s take this piece by piece.
First, recent reports had George saying him and Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard were on the same page and that George believed Pritchard understood what types of players he should acquire to play next to George. This led to George (again, reportedly) saying he planned to play in Indy next season, that his goal of bringing a championship to the Pacers was still real, and, based on all this, that the Pacers had zero intention of trading George. Based on Woj’s report, then, one has to wonder how real those other reports were. Did George have a change of heart?
Second, I think the Pacers are right to engage other teams in trades before engaging the Lakers. The Pacers know what kind of offers they’re going to get from the Lakers — terrible ones. I think Ramona Shelburne said it best:
I mean, do the Pacers want Deng or Mozgov’s contract and two 2nd round picks? Because, in theory, that’s what the Lakers would be offering. Or, if not that exact type of deal, a variation of it. There’s simply no need for the Lakers to give up anything of value at this stage…or, really, ever. What could change that, though?
Well, I think that’s what the Pacers would be trying to get to by engaging other teams in trade discussions. If they can show the Lakers FO that other teams are putting together viable offers which would be significantly better than what (the Lakers) are offering, could that move the needle and grease the wheels for a Lakers/Pacers trade directly? While I think that’s still somewhat unlikely, it could happen of the team trading for George is an upper tier playoff team which would, in theory, have the talent and culture to entice George to stay on long term rather than bolt for LA next summer.
The question is, would any playoff team really make a significant offer? And could it really be any playoff team or would it need to be a top tier team that has a chance to compete for a championship? If it’s the latter, I would think only the Cavs, Celtics, Spurs, and Rockets qualify today. And, when looking at those teams, would any of them really make a significant offer? I don’t know the answer to that, but if I’m more than happy to wait and see.
And, ultimately, I guess that’s where I am right now — which, if you’ve been following this site, is where I’ve been for some time. Even before Woj’s report, I saw no need to give up anything of value for George. The Lakers, while building up a nice young core of players, are still too asset poor to surrender even one of their core 4 lottery picks (Randle, Russell, Ingram, this year’s #2 pick) in a trade, much less two of them. They could, in theory, dangle Jordan Clarkson, but these recent reports would move me away from that option right now.
So, it’s really just waiting and seeing what materializes out of Indy and waiting for them to make the call to Magic and Pelinka. If that call never comes, so be it. I’d be more than willing to wait this out until next summer, even taking my chances if one of those top tiered teams executes a deal. The Lakers aren’t necessarily in the driver’s seat here, but it seems they have enough leverage to let a deal come to them rather than rushing out to try to make one themselves.