The Indiana Pacers are in a precarious position. In some ways, the franchise holds all of the cards in the Paul George sweepstakes. In another sense, the Pacers have next to no leverage.
It was announced via multiple sources that George will not re-sign with Indiana – thus becoming a free agent at the end of next season. The NBA’s worst-kept secret has George ending up with the Lakers. While the Palmdale, Calif. native hasn’t outright said he’ll end up in LA, he hasn’t exactly squelched those rumors, either. Indiana now will be forced to deal the 4-time All-Star in order to recoup some value – as opposed to losing him for next to nothing.
Additionally, the decision by George signals the leap into a rebuilding process for Indiana. They’d also most certainly want to make a deal immediately. By waiting until right before the trade deadline in February, the Pacers wouldn’t get much at all.
While the Lakers are the presumptuous (and logical) destination for George, there’s one other team squarely in the mix: The Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, Indiana has already reached out to Cleveland in order to gauge interest. The proposition of pairing an athletic, young, and versatile wing to an existing core featuring LeBron James and Kyrie Irving seems immensely appealing. Cleveland would likely have to part with All-Star Kevin Love, but George would (in theory) help the team match-up much better with Golden State in a potential fourth-straight Finals series in 2018.
While Cleveland’s interest in George is surely legitimate, are the Pacers truly comfortable with getting a haul of Love and little else? The Cavaliers don’t have much in the way of young assets – nor do they have a collection of first-round picks to jettison out. Cleveland has dealt its 2017, 2018, and 2019 first-round picks away in recent years. If it was to relinquish one, it would likely have to be the 2020 pick.
The Lakers do have more to offer in the way of both young talent and draft selections. The new braintrust of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have the No. 2 Overall pick in this year’s draft – plus a bevy of promising youngsters for Indiana to choose from (Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac).
The Lakers have long been thought to be the destination for George after this upcoming year. LA could stand pat and wait for George to become a free agent after the season. It would then sign George without having to trade any way of its young core. On the flipside, what if George goes to Cleveland and immensely enjoys himself? What if the Cavs win a title? It would seem difficult for George to walk away from that sort of situation – even despite the persistent rumbles that he will don the purple and gold in 2018.
Indiana surely knows this, and will likely use any bit of leverage it has in order to coerce the Lakers into parting with some of their assets.
Hypothetically, let’s see how a George trade to either Cleveland or Los Angeles would impact all three franchises:
George to Cleveland
Should this occur, Cleveland’s starting five will get a much-needed jolt of length and athleticism. George is a proven scorer --- possessing the ability to fill it up from anywhere on the court. He can bomb threes from the perimeter, thrive in transition, and also bully smaller players on the box. Defensively, he represents a massive upgrade from Love. He can guard multiple positions on the floor. His skill-set also matches up against Golden State far better than Love’s does. Cleveland wouldn’t be bothered as much in pick-and-roll situations, and this acquisition would enable the Cavs to play smaller for longer stretches of time.
Love to Indiana
Love would be the centerpiece for a Cleveland-Indiana swap. While not considered a cornerstone at this point in his career, he’s certainly a serviceable player with All-Star capabilities. Love would be the first option in Indiana – a role he hasn’t had since his days in Minnesota. He’s certainly good enough to average a double-double, particularly when getting consistent touches. Indiana would also seek some sort of asset from Cleveland (perhaps in a three-team trade). It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Pacers pick up a plethora of future picks, and a filler of sorts (like J.R. Smith).
George to Los Angeles
The hometown kid would come home to his preferred location of Los Angeles. George’s arrival would also give the Lakers its first star player in the Johnson/Pelinka era – as well as the first legitimate All-Star talent since the retirement of Kobe Bryant. George would be a piece to build around in the upcoming seasons. Not only would his addition help the Lakers attract free agents, but it would give the loyal fan base a direction to get excited about.
Assets to Indiana
The longer Indiana waits to trade George, the worse package it will receive. General Manager Kevin Pritchard will likely ask for the No. 2 pick, or at worst Ingram. It doesn’t appear as if the Lakers will part with either asset – though every other option is most likely on the table. A combination of Russell/Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and the No. 28 pick could work. Matching up salaries is also something to take into consideration. It would be a boon for the Lakers to move one of its two “albatrossian” contracts in Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Deng could be sent to Indiana in order to facilitate the trade. While he won’t be an integral piece going forward, his addition could serve a purpose as a high-character, veteran leader. The additions of young talents could help Indiana expedite the rebuilding process with affordable entities.
Ultimately, this could be a shrewd game of cat-and-mouse versus Indiana and Los Angeles. Are the Lakers truly comfortable with waiting this scenario out for a whole year? If not, the Lakers’ hand might be forced by an opportunistic Indiana franchise.
Image Sources: Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports, CBS Sports