Report: Paul George plans to leave Pacers; could join Lakers via free agency in 2018

Paul George has told the Pacers he plans to leave during the 2018 free agency period, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Per the report, George prefers the Lakers over any other team on the market. This news comes a year before George can exercise the player option from his contract and become a free agent.

If this report is true, it essentially kills any trade value he previously had for the Pacers. It's hard to envision any team in the league offering Indiana a large haul knowing that George already has a destination in mind. 

As for the Lakers, this is a dream scenario. They can either try to get George a year early through a trade where they have to give up essentially nothing or just wait it out for a season and sign him during the 2018 free agency period. The Lakers have all the advantage in the world while George has left the Pacers with nothing. In fact, ESPN's Ramona Shellbourne reports that the Lakers don't have any plans parting ways with any of their assets in exchange for George.

Although George would constitute a significant acquisition for Los Angeles, the rebuilding Lakers do not currently intend to part with any of their young assets in a trade with the Pacers, sources told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne.

The George bombshell raises the following question: Should the Pacers have traded George last season and gotten ahead of his departure? That's a tough answer for Indiana. Had George made an All-NBA team and qualified for the super max extension, then that would have given the Pacers more leverage in keeping George. However, he did not make an squad and now Indiana is in a very rough spot.

One option that the Pacers can explore is sending out Paul George as a rental. There are teams that believe adding a guy like George can make them a title contender. They'll be willing to part with assets to take the risk on that one-year run. According to The Vertical, the Pacers have already explored that option.

They need to trade George as soon as possible. The Pacers know he's leaving and they know his destination. They may lack leverage but there is simply nothing the Pacers can do but get whatever return they can in a trade. Anything is better than nothing.

Paul George wants to be Mr. L.A.

Paul George grew up in Northern Los Angeles watching Kobe Bryant and the Lakers (as well as the Clippers). There have been rumors for years that his one goal as a player is to go play in L.A. someday. Considering the Pacers' current situation and lack of direction there isn't really a better time for George to pull the plug and say it's time to do what he's always wanted to do -- go play for Los Angeles.

The signs have been there for a long time with George growing up idolizing Bryant as a player. He entered the NBA wearing number 24. One of the first coaches he ever worked with, Brian Shaw, used to tell him stories about Bryant. This is George's chance to be the next Kobe on a Lakers team that currently has a lot of young assets, but no stars. He can be the big man in Los Angeles like he's always wanted to be.

The Pacers have no leverage

There have always been signs of where George wanted to play, but it's never been this clear. Sunday's report has left the Pacers without any leverage to speak of in terms of trade talks. The Lakers don't have to offer anything of significant value in a trade with Indiana, because they know that if they just wait it out George will eventually come to them. 

In previous years, we'd probably expect the Pacers to offer George as a one-year rental to a potential contender looking to make a one-year run. However, in a Warriors-dominated league it's left teams more hesitant to give up long-term assets. The only team that could fit into the rental category is Boston, and even then the Pacers won't be able to get much out of them. George would be a rental after all. The only thing Indiana can do is get the best possible return at this point no matter how minimal.

The Lakers need to decide what they offer soon

Magic Johnson was approached during the NBA combine and was asked about his plans for the summer. He revealed that the Lakers actually planned on a quiet period and wanted to instead save their cap space for the 2018 free agency period. It's become apparent that Johnson's plan all along was to go after George.

However, now an opportunity has presented itself for Johnson and the Lakers to make a run at George in a trade. They hold all the leverage and should be able to control the talks with ease, but they need to decide sooner rather than later what their offer is. Who is on the table and who is untouchable? Get this done quick.

If the Lakers offer anything at all

The Lakers can choose to offer an asset for Paul George and make the trade fairly easy, but considering all the leverage they have this might not be necessary at all. The Lakers have no plans to give up any assets for Paul George. They have a nice collection of young players and the number two overall pick in the NBA Draft. Any of these could form a nice package for George in a different trade environment, but their situation is different. The Lakers don't have to trade anybody. Eventually, George will come to them.

This could get awkward if it drags on

Let's say the Lakers can't decide which assets they want to get rid of in a trade. Meanwhile, the Pacers, tired of waiting, decide to just stick it out and wait for the best possible offer. They're potentially willing to wait until the trade deadline. This means George has to play out his final year in Indiana with the entire world knowing he wants to leave.

All of this would get awkward very fast for George and the Pacers. He would be forced to answer questions from the media about his pending free agency and why he wants to leave. It would become like the Dwightmare and Melodrama but everybody already knows how it's going to end. Final seasons with players that clearly don't want to be around anymore never goes well for either side. The best solution for these two is to end this relationship as quickly as possible. 

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