Paul George to Lakers (possibly with Russell Westbrook)? All-NBA vote makes it easier
An All-NBA snub worth $70 million means L.A. could get a superstar
When the 2017 All-NBA selections were announced, the storylines were easy to find. LeBron James tied a record for first-team selections. James Harden was the only unanimous first-team selection. Chris Paul wasn't picked.
But maybe the most relevant element was Paul George 's absence. As a result, George is no longer eligible for the designated player extension this year, which means he winds up short about $70 million. Given both his history of reported interest in the Los Angeles Lakers and an on-record history of frustration with the way the Indiana Pacers have gone in recent years, it's natural to look at this development as a setback to Indiana's pursuit of retaining him.
A couple of things to note:
- The Pacers can still offer it to George next season, if he makes an All-NBA team. He'd have to opt into the final year of his deal in 2018-19, and then take the extension after. That might be reason enough for George to stay, at least through the end of next season.
- If he's traded, he's not eligible for it, so that's out the window. Players don't take the ability to sign the DPE with them, it has to be with the team that drafted the player.
- The Pacers will still be able to offer another year, and more money, next summer even if George doesn't make All-NBA.
Typically, when we do these kinds of analysis, the focus is on "what makes him the most money." But what we're really talking about with George at this point is whether he'll be traded, and where. George has telegraphed a pretty clear preference for the Lakers. He's from California, and multiple reports have indicated that's his preferred landing spot.
But let's talk about this a little more.
A LAKERS DISORDER
Paul George to the Lakers makes no sense. None. It is completely against logic, if you're analyzing things for George from a financial or basketball perspective. It is like if the CEO of a mid-level tech company who had made a name for himself as being a premier talent despite a few rough years of earnings was like "I'm going to go work for this big-name company that has been left in ruins following years of failure."
This does not mean George is against going to go to the Lakers.
It doesn't mean he's "wrong" if in fact that's what he wants.
It just means if we're going to talk about this, we've got to talk about it from the perspective of things that aren't basketball. Let's be absolutely clear on this: the Lakers are bad. And they were not "oh, they're bad, but definitely on the rise" last season. That was not a 2009 Oklahoma City Thunder "bad" team. It was just bad. They have talented players and they are not wholly without upside. D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle , and Brandon Ingram all had their moments. But it is not like with Kevin Durant , where you watched him and knew he was going to be great. It's more like "Hey, these guys could be All-Stars, someday!" That doesn't mean that none of them can become stars. It means that we have nothing to look at and go "that's a top five player in five years."
They're also young. Super-young. Really young. Randle is 22. Russell is 21. Ingram 19. If the Lakers could somehow trade for George without giving up their No. 2 pick? If they take Lonzo Ball, he would be 20 next season. George is 27. He's in his prime. The Lakers aren't going to be ready to contend with that core, even with George, for another two years, at which point he's creeping up on 30. None of this matches up. You can't win with young guys, even if they're amazing. A rookie hasn't been a centerpiece of a championship team since Magic Johnson, and the league is a lot different now than it was 30 years ago.
This comes across as burying the Lakers, when that's not really what's going on. It's very likely that one of Ingram, Russell, or Ball will become a franchise cornerstone. They'll have good young players around them. They aren't going to be a complete hazmat zone forever.
But consider that if you're George, going to the Lakers means you're basically sacrificing your prime for whatever personal reasons draw you to the Lakers. Again, it makes no sense... unless there are personal reasons. Family. A desire to explore the entertainment industry. A preference for seafood over steak. (No kidding, Indianapolis is an underrated food town.) A love of the beach. A simple comfort level. These are all perfectly valid reasons for George wanting to go to the Lakers. But it has to be with the understanding that it may seriously decrease his already slim chances of ever winning a title. (Those chances are slim because the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James exist.)
A P.G. SOLAR SYSTEM
Ah, I can hear the purple and yellow fans yell, "but if they get Paul George, they can go out and build a star team around him!"
OK, it's here that you have to examine a couple of things.
- To get George, before he becomes a free agent, the Lakers have to trade something of value for him. If you ask why they would when he's going to be a free agent, the answer is that if Boston or another team trades for him, and then has the ability to sign him for more money, that makes it tougher. Think of it this way. Say the Denver Nuggets swing for the fences, knowing he could leave. Yeah, they could bottom out, and then he leaves and it's a disaster for Denver. That's a very Nuggets outcome. But say it works with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray , and a more veteran team around those young players than what the Lakers have, and that team makes the playoffs and goes on a run. The Lakers might have wasted an opportunity. So L.A. has incentive to do a trade, and to get it done, you would think the Pacers would want something back. Sure, there's a chance the Pacers go "full Sacramento Kings " and trade him for nothing at the deadline, but GM Kevin Pritchard doesn't have that kind of reputation, and George doesn't come with DeMarcus Cousins ' baggage.
- Say the plan is to get George and then trade for a second star. Their 2018 pick goes to Philadelphia, unprotected. They have Houston's 2017 to throw in there, but other than that, they're low on assets. If they deal their 2020 pick for another star to pair with George, whoever they trade with will know they're going to be good, and the value on that pick lowers.
- Next, you have free agency, where the Lakers have swung out year after year. Magic Johnson is supposed to be the difference here, and he'll help. You sit across from a living legend, it's going to have an impact. But also consider the free agent market. Paul Millsap . In 2018? The options aren't much better. Even if the Lakers go get a really good player to put next to George, and have whatever's left of the young core after trades to fill in the gaps, is that a contender? . The ninth-best option is an over-30
But again, this is all basketball talk. "Is there a clear line between where the Lakers are now and the NBA Finals if they add Paul George?" And the answer is no. But that doesn't have to be the motivation for George. If he wants to go to the Lakers, he can force his way there by telling the Pacers he's not re-signing and telling other teams he won't re-sign anywhere else. He loses some money, but that doesn't have to be his only factor. George is going to be a free agent. He gets to do what makes him happy.
There are two more scenarios we have to talk about with the Lakers.
Let's say they trade Russell, Houston's first-rounder, their own first-rounder in 2019, and a 2021 unprotected pick to Indiana, who can't find a better offer for George after he has told them he's gone. Throw in Randle or Jordan Clarkson on top of it. They still have Ball and George, along with Ingram, and maybe you sign DeMarcus Cousins when he's a free agent in 2018. That's a strong team, if one that still comes with questions about Cousins and the young guys.
Now here's the more dangerous one, for the rest of the league.
Russell Westbrook signed an extension with the Thunder. He's set to make the DVPE next year, which could keep him with the Thunder forever. But imagine the Thunder take a step back or Westbrook's mindset changes. Westbrook, from California, entering his prime, able to go play with Paul George? Paul George and Russell Westbrook? Now you actually have something.
These scenarios are remote, but they are possible.
One final note on this whole thing.
The reports that surfaced regarding George's interest in the Lakers were interesting. The Pacers aren't the New York Knicks . They run a tight ship, and there are very few leaks that come out of their front office. The Lakers might have leaked George's interest, but that doesn't follow with a lot of the trends we've seen with them through the years. They don't tend to count chickens before they're hatched, though maybe the new front office takes a different tact.
One thing that did stand out, though?
George is represented by the same agent that represents both D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. Maybe that's a coincidence. But it's a weird thread line.
A PURPLE AND GOLDEN FUTURE
If Paul George wants to be a Laker, he can be a Laker. He'll have to give up some money to do so, but less money than he would have if he made All-NBA. George is still going to make hundreds of millions of dollars no matter what, and he can still get that full amount next year if he makes All-NBA.
George gets to choose, and with how Indiana botched the reconfiguration after the 2014 team fell short, it's hard to blame him if h wants out. They tried to force him into playing power forward, they signed guys who didn't get along, they fired Frank Vogel, and they didn't communicate with him about trade talks around the deadline. George has legit complaints. If he wants to win a title, are the Lakers the best option? No. But they just have to be the right option. And you can bet that if given the chance to make their case, Magic Johnson and the Lakers front office will present strong reasons for why he should make that choice.
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