The Paul George situation has escalated quickly. George went from being the Pacers' franchise star, to a bit disgruntled, to completely disgruntled, to mentioned in trade rumors to the verge of being dealt. There's widespread discussion that George will be traded sometime in the next 48 hours between now and Thursday's draft.
Based on precedent, that seems unlikely. Teams never want to deal when they're backed into a corner, and the Pacers are right up against the wall. The most common response in these situations is to just wait. But the Pacers may not have that luxury. From the time free agency starts, they're on a clock to find a team with cap space to absorb George which is willing to take him on a one-year rental and risk him going to the Lakers as a free agent in 2018 while offering up something of value.
The good news for the Pacers is that they've managed to create a big enough market to generate a lot of offers. Whether any of those offers yield the bare minimum of what they need, is the question.
Let's dig into what the potential offers are, but first, we need to agree to his value. George is 6-foot-9, 27 years old, entering his prime. His leg injury suffered two years ago is no longer a concern. He's on an expiring contract, which means any team is trading for him based on the knowledge he could, and in some cases likely would, leave in a year. He's on the books for $18 million next season.
So with that knowledge, let's say that a top-10 pick in the draft is out. This draft is deep, and good, but not so much that a pick in the teens is too much to gamble on George. Let's also say that if they don't get a pick, they need at least one good, young, long-term player. But a pick and that asset is too much.
The Pacers also aren't going to want to take on any big money. No sense rebuilding with an albatross contract. Let's look at the options, with suggestions courtesy of ESPN's Trade Machine.
(NOTE: These ideas are speculative and meant to spur conversation. They are not reportedly in play, nor am I reporting them as such. This is speculative for the sake of discussion.)
Los Angeles Lakers
Let's start here. If Nick Young picks up his option, this one could be completed July 1:
Tarik Black and Young are either non-guaranteed or expiring next year. Julius Randle is the get here. You get a good prospect with considerable upside in exchange for just George. At the deadline last year, this combination would have required the inclusion of the No. 2 pick, or another pick of relative value, but that time has past. This clears $11.5 million off the books for the Pacers after 2018, on top of saving the $3.4 million in the deal itself. That is not bad, at all, for Indiana.
Lakers fans are going to ask "Why on earth would you give up Randle when you can get PG a year later?" And the answer is "You don't have to, but if you want him now, that's what Indiana's going to need. You can hold on to it, but the Pacers can't just salary dump Paul George. They're better off just letting him walk than taking on salary for lesser players, even if they expire. Just keep him in that situation. But if you're going to give up an asset, you'd rather give up Randle than Brandon Ingram.
(If Nick Young doesn't opt out, you can slide Corey Brewer into this package and it works the same.)
However, let's say that part of the deal for the Lakers is that they absolutely have to get rid of salary, as they continue their pursuit of another star in 2018 (Russell Westbrook, LeBron James). There's this:
The Pacers have just taken on Luol Deng with over $54 million left on his deal. Randle is not enough of a sweetener. However, the Lakers come away with George, without taking on more salary. The Pacers are going to need more here. We already said the No. 2 pick is out, and the Lakers' 2018 pick is under conditional trade to Boston (by way of Philadelphia by way of Phoenix, seriously). So the Lakers can either send:
a. The 27th and 28th picks they own in Thursday's draft, or ...
b. A conditional (let's say top-10) protected 2020 first-round pick.
That gets the Pacers value for giving up George and taking on Deng, without forcing the Lakers to overpay.
In the end, the Lakers' best play is to hold out and play chicken with Indiana. No matter where he goes, they'll be in the room with George as a free agent in 2018, and there's a chance that he goes to L.A. a year early, struggles, has a sour experience on a bad team, and then leaves. There's way more reason not to do this deal.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers popped up in reports this week, and it's curious. Here's the reality: The Clippers cannot get George, realistically, without a sign and trade. They've dealt their picks. Austin Rivers and Wes Johnson (which works for the math) is not enough. The only realistic possibility is a sign-and-trade. Teams can't complete a sign-and-trade for a player if they are over what's called "the apron" ($4 million over the luxury tax) unless the move reduces their salary. A max contract sign-and-trade for Blake Griffin gets this done.
But so many questions:
a. Does Chris Paul re-sign if that happens?
b. Is that an upgrade, George for Griffin?
c. With his injury history and limited game, do the Pacers want Griffin on a max, long-term deal?
d. Most importantly, is Griffin going to willingly agree to a sign-and-trade to Indiana, facing a major rebuild in that market?
There's no realistic scenario where this happens. But I will throw this one out:
The Clippers would have to clear another small move somewhere to get a few extra million under the apron before this deal, and then they'd have to take on (hopefully) the cost of re-signing Chris Paul and pay untold fortunes in luxury tax. The Pacers get loose of Monta Ellis, add DeAndre Jordan to put next to Myles Turner. He's the best asset available.
Who do the Clippers play at center? How is their defense? Like I said, it's probably impossible, but it's the only real option.
The Wizards keep popping up in these rumors. They want in.
An Otto Porter sign-and-trade is nice and tidy, but it's not nearly enough. Porter's value isn't the same for the Pacers as it is for the Wizards, who need him next to John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Wizards owe their 2017 pick to Brooklyn. Does Porter and a 2019 top-10 protected get it done? Is that enough for Indiana?
Marcin Gortat expires in 2019, as does Markieff Morris. The Pacers get Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre Jr. as rebuilding pieces. They move Al Jefferson's contract. It's not bad. The Wizards' bench is still a dumpster fire and if Ian Mahinmi has injury issues, Jefferson starts at center, which, yikes, but at least it gets them Paul George. You're also looking at playing George next to Porter, and if George leaves, you're going to be up against the cap with no bench and no way to improve.
Again, this makes little sense.
Houston's first-round pick goes to the Lakers, so that's out.
This is a monster gamble on the Rockets' part, because if he leaves, they are in huge trouble:
Indiana loses George, but gets an upgrade on Ellis in Eric Gordon, on a three-year, cap-friendly deal. They clear space with Trevor Ariza and Lou Williams coming off the books. The Rockets have to take Ellis, but he's basically just a C-minus version of Gordon, and in Mike D'Antoni's system, might be insane. George starts at small forward next to James Harden on the wing, and operates as a secondary playmaker. The Rockets lose some versatility but gain George.
This seems like a lowball for the Pacers, but again, with compromised value, it makes a little bit of sense, especially if the Rockets throw in a heavily-protected first-round future pick.
I'm not going to lie. I'm very tired of trying to talk about Celtics trades. They never want to move any of their assets, and with George compromised by his free agency, it's even harder. If any team should be able to feel they can convince George to stay, it should be Boston with its history, culture, and talent. But here we are. Let's say the Celtics get serious, though:
Let's assume the No. 3 pick in 2017, the Lakers/Kings pick they got from Philadelphia, and the Nets' 2018 picks are out. Those are off the table completely.
That sound you hear are Celtics fans howling like rabid coyotes. Not one, but two players that embody the Celtics culture. Blasphemy! But two things: If you're not getting one of those picks, the deal has to start with Avery Bradley. If you're Boston, you're not going to give Isaiah Thomas $200 million next summer and then pay Bradley. George can play the 2 or 3 spot, and is a true superstar to pair with Al Horford and Thomas. Making the money work is a trick. Bradley on his own is not enough, especially since his deal is up next year as well.
There's also this:
Jaylen Brown and Bradley? That's insanity! But again, Bradley could leave as a free agent next summer as well. The Pacers can't take Bradley as the only asset in a deal and then have him walk. This might be too much, but this is the essential problem with Boston: they only have really valuable things to deal.
Here's one that doesn't include Bradley:
Jae Crowder isn't enough, obviously. The Pacers would need both the Grizzlies and Clippers' 2019 picks. That's a lot, but also remember, the Celtics still have a million picks between now and then. They don't need all those young players. They can afford to expend them while keeping all the likely top-10 picks. And there's a chance those picks (if the Grizzlies or Clippers fall apart) wind up higher than expected for Indiana.
The Cavs have Kevin Love to deal. That's the gem, and the only real thing they have to offer. But the Pacers are probably looking for more than Love, or something different. Which is why a third team makes sense. The Suns have been active in trade talks, and if they can get Love, it's a bit weird with their young core, but they might be willing to make the leap, especially if they're able to take a point guard with their pick.
The Suns give up Eric Bledsoe, which the Pacers then can use to let Jeff Teague walk. Dragan Bender's a lot to give up in addition, but with Marquese Chriss or Jonathan Isaac (if they don't take a point guard), it makes some sense. You're putting Love with a number of young players, but there is some value there, and he fits well around their other young guys.
Cleveland's hard to predict, because of its overall situation with its front office and the future of LeBron uncertain. If the Cavs trade for George, there's a chance they lose both of those guys in 2018, which would be a disaster.