Paul George has informed the Indiana Pacers he will leave the franchise when he becomes a free agent this summer, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Woj reports that George’s agent Aaron Mintz told new Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard that while they are not requesting a trade, he plans to leave in the summer with the Lakers his preferred destination.
Although this leak likely comes from the agent or player side with the clear goal of scaring off all pursuers besides the Lakers, it opens the door for Danny Ainge and the Celtics to make a favorable trade for George. There is also the possibility that the leak could be coming from the Pacers with the goal of signaling to opposing GMs that now is the time to pounce on George if they cough up a high pick in Thursday’s draft, which has a ton of downside. It connects the dots between this weekend’s trade for multiple picks, as Indiana has weak leverage over their star after it got out that he is leaving and he wants to go to only one team. The only teams willing to pay a pick in this draft for him would be teams that think they can convince him to stay, i.e. the Celtics and Cavs.
This particular report that George is just informing the team of his plans rather than demanding a trade means he is setting the stage for Indiana to get something of value before he leaves. It is a courtesy to his franchise while forcing them to make a move, rather than burning them and becoming a villain. While George is willing to play out the season in Indiana, they will have to trade him to come away from the George era with assets with which to move forward. There isn’t much they can do this offseason to create a team that would suddenly change his mind.
George is from Southern California and can get a four-year, $130 million deal from the Lakers. Although they will have $15.6 million in cap space next summer if they clear their non-guaranteed deals and renounce free agents like Julius Randle per Bobby Marks of The Vertical, they would be willing to surrender future picks or prospects to move one of Luol Deng’s or Timofey Mozgov’s contracts to clear room for George. It would be a difficult task, but most likely feasible as the Golden State Warriors have shown multiple times.
George is angling for a deal with the Lakers this year, who can offer Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and future picks. They would not part with DeAngelo Russell, Brandon Ingram or this year’s pick, as they have enough leverage with George signaling he is heading there in free agency. This means the price drops for Boston as well.
While the Celtics have the assets to overpay for any star, they may not need to in this scenario with most other teams scared to trade for George out of fear that he will make good on his alleged commitment to go to the Lakers. Magic Johnson would max out George without question, so any team trading for George has to sell him on the promise of spending the rest of his career competing for the title. Boston can pull that off if they sign a major free agent this offseason or make another big trade.
If the Celtics are bidding against the Lakers, they may be able to get George on the cheap if the Lakers aren’t putting up a decent offer. They can build a package around one of their high picks, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart. This gives the Pacers a building block pick to replace George, a point guard to replace free agent Jeff Teague, and a swing to replace George in the short term. Compared to the previous price Boston would have paid, this may be a fair compromise. The market may bear out that the actual price for George is much lower, considering the inherent risk of acquiring him if you’re not the Lakers.
A package like that would have to happen during the offseason and give the Celtics a window to negotiate an extension, formally or informally, like the Cleveland Cavaliers did with Kevin Love when he was traded from Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins. Because George is in the last year of his contract, he cannot do an extend-and-trade. So an agreement would have to be executed next offseason when he hits free agency and would still just be a handshake deal this year. Boston would prefer not to surrender any significant draft assets without a long-term commitment from George. It would appear the Pacers want to move George for a pick in this draft, so this may move quickly.