The Indiana Pacers finally pulled the trigger on a Paul George trade, which everyone knew was coming once the star forward made it known that he prefers to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers next summer in free agency. With George determined not to return to Pawnee, the Pacers were put in a tough spot. Teams didn’t want to give up much value for a player that intends to leave in a year, even one as talented as George.
Ultimately, Indiana shipped George to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, causing the other 28 teams to simultaneously cry out, “That’s it???”.
Even with George’s Hollywood hopes depressing his trade value, the return that Indiana received is incredibly weak. They had reportedly asked for two first-round picks and a starting-caliber player and instead got one starter and no picks. Ouch.
Oladipo isn’t a bad player, but he is just starting a deal that pays him a whopping $21 million for the next four seasons, tying up future flexibility for a suddenly rebuilding Pacers team. Sabonis may be young, but he isn’t exactly a star in the making.
Even if George does leave next summer, the return was so low that OKC still wins the trade by a fair margin simply because they cleared so much salary.
So what were the Pacers thinking? That isn’t clear, but something must have happened. The Boston Celtics could have beaten the Oklahoma City offer without even trying, and the Lakers reported offer of Julius Randle and the 27th and 28th picks in the draft is also easily superior.
Perhaps the Pacers simply decided that they were not going to give George what he wanted by sending him to Los Angeles. It might be a bit petty, but possible. Maybe they also decided not to send him to the Eastern Conference, where they would have to see him four times a year. Not likely because Indiana is rebuilding anyway, but still, possible.
If those decisions were made, then one would still think someone would have offered more than OKC, but it’s not crazy to think that better offers simply weren’t there.
As great as this deal was for the Thunder, it’s hard not to see the Lakers as a big winner here as well. No, they didn’t land George, and that’s certainly a disappointment, but George also didn’t go to a contending team like Boston or Cleveland who could be a real threat to convince him to stay.
That’s not to say Oklahoma City won’t do their best to change George’s mind over the course of the next year because they certainly will. However, in the increasingly loaded West, the Thunder still don’t figure to be a true title contender, even with MVP Russell Westbrook playing with George.
The Lakers, meanwhile, have landed the new face of the franchise in Lonzo Ball, and have an up-and-coming talent in Brandon Ingram. Julius Randle is primed for a big year before he hits free agency, and Brook Lopez will drag opposing centers away from the basket, allowing coach Luke Walton’s offense to become infinitely more fun, and they have Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka oozing optimism at the top.
They are also on the path to having enough cap space available next summer to not only sign George, but also another free agent star like LeBron James, DeMarcus Cousins, or in the Thunder’s worst nightmare, Russell Westbrook.
Imagine that, two Southern California natives in Westbrook and George returning home after spending a year building chemistry in Oklahoma. The Thunder will try to get Westbrook to extend his deal this summer, but still, a Lakers team-up next summer doesn’t feel a far-fetched as it once did.
The Lakers ended the 2016-17 season winning games that they should have lost to increase their lottery odds. They went into the offseason with some momentum and a positive vibe, and then fortune smiled upon them when they jumped up in the draft to snag the second pick and hometown kid Ball.
Ironically, had they tanked the games they statistically should have, they would have lost their top-three protected pick because the second-worst slot they vacated ended up dropping to fourth.
They got to have their cake and eat it too.
The George trade is a similar situation. Yes, getting him to Los Angeles this summer would have been nice. However, now the Lakers have the opportunity to keep all of their assets and still get George. Adding a superstar or two to a developing young core is the kind of home run that can really fast-track a rebuild.
Paul George is now in Oklahoma City, and the clock is ticking. In one year, the Lakers will have their chance to bring him home.