Paul George is coming off his big arrival-on-the-NBA-scene party (despite having been phenomenal in the 2011-12 season as well). He's in the last year of his deal. And if no extension is reached, he'll be a restricted free agent next summer. Pacers.com transcribed an interview with George on ESPN, and the topic of switching teams came up.
Great news, Pacers fans! George wants to remain a Pacer!
“My heart is still in Indiana,” the 23-year-old said. “… I'm still a Pacer, and hopefully I remain a Pacer. I'm happy where I'm at.”
He also talked about how loyalty is so important to him. So, really, nothing to worry about. This will all end well, for once. No small-market superstar forcing his way to a big market because ... aw, crap.
George said that him hypothetically joining the Lakers would certainly be a “family-favorite team.”
“Of course it would be tough (to say no to Kobe). You're talking about playing [at] home.” (George is from Palmsdale, California.)
Here, let me get ahead of both sides on this one. Pacers fans, you absolutely can't dismiss this outright. The one thing, the biggest thing that we have learned over the past five years is that stars want to play together and want to play together in big markets. If you told me that, in five years, George will force his way out of Indiana and to the Lakers in a trade that devastates the Pacers, I wouldn't bat an eye. I've seen it time and time again.
So, this could happen.
But not next year.
There has been one constant in the chaos, and it is this: Star players re-sign with their clubs for the max extensions coming off their rookie deals. It sets you up for the first eight to nine years of your career with huge money and gives you a baseline of cash to protect you against injury. You can worry about your legacy, your career goals, everything else later. You take that first extension. Kevin Love took huge issue with pretty much everything the Timberwolves did in his first four years with them, and he still not only took the extension but wanted more years.
And he's a restricted free agent. George could hope against hope that the Pacers would let him leave under a max offer sheet from the Lakers. The Pacers would simply say, "Cool story," and then match the offer sheet. They're protected from losing George next summer by not only his loyalty but restricted free agency.
This isn't the first time that George has expressed his love for Indiana, and he has made it clear he wants the max deal from the Pacers.
Just don't be surprised if we have to revisit this down the line. The Lakers are in George's mind, and he's happy in Indiana. The two are not mutually exclusive concepts. Not anymore.