When it was reported that Paul George had informed the Pacers he planned to depart in free agency in the summer of 2018 and that his preferred destination would be the Lakers, it was only a matter of time before the Pacers cut out the middle man and tried to receive compensation from the team George (reportedly) said he wanted to go to. It seems that day is today.
The Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers are engaged in Paul George trade discussions as Thursday’s NBA draft draws near, according to league sources.
But sources told ESPN on Tuesday that it remains unclear whether the sides can agree to trade terms before the draft, given Indiana’s desire to acquire the Lakers’ No. 2 overall pick and L.A.’s well-chronicled reluctance to surrender it.
Stein/Shelburne go on to report that the Lakers are “adamant” they will not surrender neither the #2 pick in Thursday’s draft nor Brandon Ingram (who Magic Johnson has called “untouchable” in any trade this summer). All of this is as it should be. And, to be honest, I wish this report reflected an even more conservative approach to any offerings the Lakers would put on the table in a deal.
In fact, my mind hasn’t changed much from what I wrote when the aforementioned George story broke on Sunday:
…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.
This is, pretty much, how the process has gone so far. It’s been reported that the Pacers have spoken to the Cavs about a George trade, while Stein/Shelburne are reporting that the “Rockets, Cavaliers, Clippers and Wizards are among the teams that have also held trade talks with the Pacers since the weekend…” It seems now that the Pacers have gotten a feel for what the offers are, they are going right to Lakers to offer something equally (or more) enticing.
The question now is will the Lakers budge? While I remain pretty firm in my approach that the Lakers should not be willing to offer much of anything that would diminish their roster of real rotation players/core youngsters, I could get behind a single iteration of a trade:
*Lakers get: Paul George
*Pacers get: Jordan Clarkson, the #28 pick, a future protected first round pick (2020 or 2021)
Let me explain my rationale. From the Lakers’ side, Clarkson is a current rotation player, still relatively young, and has been a fairly reliable player who has certainly exceeded his draft position. But of all their young guys he is the most expendable, especially if the team drafts Lonzo Ball while adding George and keeping D’Angelo Russell. Suddenly, the minutes on the wing become more scarce and the minutes at point guard are almost non-existent.
Clarkson also offers salary ballast in a deal and removes future financial commitments heading into the summer of 2018 when the Lakers will surely want to be a player in an even deeper free agent market. I have not yet crunched the numbers, but getting Clarkson’s salary off the books now will likely be a necessity of the Lakers want to chase a max level FA in the next couple of years. This is true even beyond finding a way to shed at least one (and probably both) of Mozgov and Deng’s contracts.
Regarding the draft picks, I hate to give up future picks and I’m not going to try too hard to spin that here. One of the dark clouds the Lakers have had over them the past few years is related to surrendering future picks in deals for big name players. That said, the 28th pick in this draft and a future protected pick — I would try to protect it in the lottery — would represent much less value than any of the team’s other young players not yet mentioned (Randle, Nance, Zubac).
Now, would this be enough for the Pacers? If I were them, it likely wouldn’t be. I think they’d either want to get off of some of their own undesired salary or, at the least, a player like Nance or Zubac if not one of the Ingram/Russell/Randle trio or the #2 overall pick. I mean, if they’re going to do a rebuild, they want high caliber prospects. And I don’t blame them. We may all really like Nance and Zubac, but they’re a late 1st and early 2nd round pick, respectively. As people who follow the Lakers, we must always remember that our opinions of these guys are likely much higher than other teams’.
Which brings us back to what looks to me like an almost inevitable impasse. Unless the Lakers are willing to bend on an offer, that is. Which, I suppose, is very possible. It’s just not something I would endorse. We’ll see, though. Because once discussions begin, I would think there’s an impetus on both sides to find a mutual agreement.