The Pacers were told by Paul George on Sunday that their star player will be leaving next summer in free agency, likely for the Lakers, putting pressure on Indiana to try and move him prior to the deadline next February. Indiana isn’t wasting any time trying to figure out what the market is like for George, as there are multiple reports that the Pacers have reached out to teams about potential trades.
The most interesting reported trade conversation is between the Pacers and Cavs about possibly sending George to Cleveland as the Cavs look to add firepower to compete with the Warriors after losing the NBA Finals in five games to Golden State. The Cavs are reportedly interested, as any team would be in George, but what makes Cleveland a more legitimate trade partner is that they are supposedly interested even if George won’t commit past next season.
The real issue for the Cavaliers is what the Pacers will want in return. The Cavs don’t have any upcoming draft picks available to trade until 2021, because this year’s pick and 2019’s pick are already dealt (Portland and Atlanta, respectively). So, immediate assets aren’t a possibility, and there isn’t much on the Cleveland roster in terms of youth or star power outside of LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving. Love is the most attainable of those three, as his name has been at least floated in trade rumors before, but none seem especially likely.
The question is, what do the Pacers want in return for George? According to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, the answer is still a fairly good bit.
For a player that might bolt after a season, that’s a pretty steep price. The biggest question is what counts as a starter for Indiana. Technically, J.R. Smith is a starter for Cleveland, but I doubt that’s what they mean. These are likely very preliminary trade talks, but trade talks nonetheless, so it’s interesting to hear that this is the starting line for a George trade. This also opens up the possibility of a third team joining the fray, such as the Suns, who may be able to bring more picks into the mix if they could land a player of worth.
If you’re looking at those parameters, the Celtics, with their stockpile of first round picks (with various protections) could make a push for George without giving up too much in return from their current roster and not give up any of their best future pick assets. The Celtics are expected to make more moves soon after dealing the No. 1 overall pick to the Sixers and adding another future first.
The problem for the Pacers is every team in the league knows they have to move George by the deadline, so every other team would be best suited to wait until Indiana is desperate and then try to pounce and get George for pennies on the dollar. Indiana is smart to get out in front of this and try and start a dialogue now, in an effort to boost George’s value by having multiple conversations, but whether that works and they can get a legitimate offer is yet to be determined. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Pacers are pressing teams in order to make it work.
We’re less than a full week into the offseason and it’s already getting wild. The draft figures to offer more drama on Thursday night and this summer will feature plenty of surprises in trades and free agency, and, somehow, Paul George could be the first big domino to fall this summer and he’s not even a free agent for another year.