In a stunning blockbuster trade, Paul George is heading from the Indiana Pacers to the Oklahoma City Thunder, as first reported by ESPN's Ramona Shelburne. According to The Vertical's Shams Charania, the Pacers will receive guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis in return for the star forward.
Let's grade this trade:
Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder receive Paul George
A few days before the one-year anniversary of losing Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City has rebounded. George isn't quite on the level of Durant, but he's a genuine superstar who can guard the league's best wing players and relieve the enormous scoring burden on guard Russell Westbrook. This is more than a home run for general manager Sam Presti; it is a franchise-altering move that reestablishes his reputation as one of the best executives in the league. Anytime somebody brings up the James Harden trade or the loss of Durant, it must be mentioned that Presti turned Oladipo and Sabonis into Paul freaking George. What a steal.
The Thunder should be in a state of pure jubilation. Westbrook is eligible to sign an extension with the franchise at midnight, and this acquisition ought to push him in that direction. George does not immediately vault Oklahoma City into championship contention, but he does balance its roster, raise its ceiling and make it a more attractive destination for other stars. It is remarkable that, after years of trying (and mostly failing) to find two-way players, this opportunity fell into Presti's lap.
Despite Westbrook winning the Most Valuable Player award, it was clear that the Thunder needed to reconfigure their attack at some point. The limits of the Westbrook-does-everything offense were on full display last year, especially in the playoffs, and Presti had to come up with some way to add another star. That seemed tricky because of the salaries of Oladipo, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, but it turned out that Oladipo's contract was the key to acquiring another star all along. It is obvious to say that Oklahoma City will be better on both ends next season -- the crucial thing is that it will also be much less predictable.
If there is a downside here, it is that George will join the Thunder on an expiring contract. There will be pressure on them to jell quickly and prove to him that they will be able to improve in the years to come, lest they lose him to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers next summer. As much as that would hurt, though, this is a risk well worth taking. There might have even been some buyer's remorse on Oladipo's four-year, $84 million contract extension, anyway. While his numbers were fine in his lone year in Oklahoma City, he did not show that he was a particularly good long-term fit next to Westbrook. Even if management was prepared to ride out that deal, it could not pass up a chance like this. Had the Thunder thrown in a future pick or two, it would still get an A from me. Given that they didn't sacrifice any part of their future aside from Sabonis, they deserve the highest mark possible. Grade: A+
Pacers receive Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis
That's it? The last few weeks of George rumors -- involving the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets -- seemed to indicate that Indiana was able to create a decent market for George. Apparently, that was not the case. There is no way to frame this as anything but a disappointing deal for the Pacers, unless you believe that Oladipo is going to turn into an All-Star.
Oladipo, of course, can improve. He is 25 years old, however, and his career-high 36.1 percent mark from 3-point range last season came along with a strange regression as a playmaker. Maybe he'll help sell tickets because he went to school at Indiana, but his upside is mitigated by the fact that he's making $21 million per season for the next four years. Indiana needs him to develop, and it also needs Sabonis to make good on his potential as an inside-outside threat. In his rookie season, he only shot 39.9 percent, including 32.1 percent from deep, and he needs to get stronger if his post game and rebounding from college is going to translate.
The best thing about this deal for the Pacers is that it positions them to tank hard. This is an organization that generally shuns rebuilding, but if it is willing to at least sacrifice one season, it could start to put together a new core by getting a high pick in next year's draft. If new president Kevin Pritchard trades Thaddeus Young and/or Monta Ellis in the coming weeks, then we'll know this is the path the front office has chosen.
Pritchard was put in a difficult situation the moment that George made his intention to sign with the Lakers in 2018 known. This unimpressive return should probably be seen as a reflection of George's low market value rather than Pritchard's ability to make deals. Still, it will be tough for Indiana fans to reckon with the fact that this was the best the team could do when trading its franchise player. Just two days ago, Chris Paul fetched a better return for the Los Angeles Clippers, and he could have simply walked for nothing as a free agent. If this was all that was out there right now, perhaps the Pacers should have waited. Grade: D-