Paul George was firmly on the trade block for just two weeks. It feels like much longer, but it was only recently that the Indiana Pacers were informed that George had no plans to re-sign as a free agent in 2018.
The Pacers, to their credit, quickly pivoted and diverted their focus from building around George for at least one more season to measuring the market for a rental player. George didn’t just make it known that he planned to leave the Pacers, his camp also made it public that he planned to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018.
In the middle of trying to find a suitable trade for the best all-around talent the Pacers have ever had, Kevin Pritchard put George on blast on draft night. He called George’s decision a “gut punch” and placed all blame on the All-Star for putting the franchise in an impossible situation. George’s translucent plan left Pritchard with limited options, robbing the Pacers of any leverage they might have in trade negotiations.
That ultimately led to the Pacers sending George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis, 21, is a former lottery under a rookie deal. Oladipo is under contract through 2021 for $21 million annually. He will make more money than George next season.
For the Thunder, the deal is the kind of swing the uber-calculated Sam Presti simply doesn’t make. There is a very, very good chance George walks next July as Kevin Durant did a year ago. Still, it’s a masterful move. They essentially flipped Serge Ibaka (dealt to the Orlando Magic for the same package), who is a free agent, for a year of George. Not a bad risk, especially when you can shed the $84 million owed to Oladipo.
It’s hard to figure out exactly how the market for George evolved over the last few weeks. Two respected writers out of Boston have reported that the Celtics offered a significantly better package for George at February’s trade deadline and again on draft night. It’s unreasonable to believe that the Pacers were offered three first-round picks (not the Nets or Lakers/Kings selection), Jae Crowder and another starter just one week ago and then ended up taking the Oklahoma City offer before free agency even began.
If the offers varied that greatly from last Thursday to Friday night -- which I find difficult to believe -- Pritchard would have had no option other than to wait out the market and see if George’s value increased when the dust settled on free agency. If the Celtics miss out on Gordon Hayward after already missing out on Blake Griffin, does Danny Ainge bring another pick package to the table? Maybe, maybe not.
An underrated angle here was not sending George to an Eastern Conference foe. It would have been crippling for the Pacers to send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers or Celtics and then watch him spurn the Lakers and sign a long-term deal with one of those two teams.
If the Pacers were going to accelerate a successful rebuild post-George, they needed to have seen the writing on the wall back in February. That’s when they could have gotten a massive package for George. Now? Even teams confident they can sell George on themselves face an uphill battle.
For George, this trade is an absolute home run.
He gets out of Indiana, will get to play with one of the league’s most dynamic players while marching towards the playoffs and can leave next July without blinking. If he had been dealt to Boston or Cleveland, it would have been hard to justify leaving a contender for what the Lakers may become. He’ll be right in the middle ground with the Thunder without feeling the sense of loyalty that he would have felt with Indiana.
It only lasted a fortnight, but the Pacers have finally gotten themselves out from under an impossible situation. Don’t like what they got in return? Look at the returns for Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins and to a degree, Chris Paul.
Time evaporated PG’s value. The Pacers let a little too much pass and George decided his was coming to an end in Indiana.