The NBA season will officially end in the next few days, at which point all eyes will turn to the draft which scheduled for June 22. Rumors are rampant that certain teams will, depending on their needs, try to trade up or trade down before the draft begins.
Although there are no recent whispers about the Los Angeles Lakers, who own the second pick, there is speculation that other teams with high draft choices such as the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and Sacramento Kings, may look to make a deal.
With the seemingly imminent demise of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season, there is also speculation that, to keep LeBron James happy, owner Dan Gilbert may make a bold move this summer to secure another big star to help the Cavaliers better match up with the Warriors next season.
Though the Pacers have not yet begun shopping him, it still feels as if the biggest star most likely to be traded before June 22 is Paul George of the Indiana Pacers. Yes, the same Paul George who everyone is assuming will sign with the Lakers in free agency a year from now.
George turned 27 years old last month and is in the prime of his career. He was a member of the Eastern Conference All Star Team this past year. For the season, he averaged 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game, while shooting 46.1 percent from the field, 39.3 percent from three point range, and 89.8 percent from the three throw line.
George has expressed frustration with his current situation and has given the Pacers’ management every reason to believe he is going to leave in free agency after one more season. Should that occur, they would lose their biggest star and get nothing in return. Thus, logic – which does not always win out in these situations – suggests that the smart thing to do is for the Pacers to trade him this summer when there will be suitors.
The Lakers have accumulated enough assets over the past three years to compete with any other team that tries to trade for George. However, the brain trust of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka does not want to have to deplete their young talent in any deal, especially one that wouldn’t make them an immediate championship contender.
Plus, after depleting their resources, there is still the possibility that George could spurn the team who trades for him and leave in free agency next summer. Before you say this could never happen to the Lakers, think Dwight Howard.
It is exciting to watch the young core develop, but the front office knows that before the Lakers become a top tier contender for a title, they will inevitably have to acquire at least two stars by trade or free agency and hope to develop one or two more on their own from the draft.
Most people just expect that George will be one of the new building blocks. In this era, it is harder than ever to make that happen, so the fact that George is interested in the Lakers when they are still a bottom rung team and the Pacers can pay him much more money, makes the situation all the more unusual.
Still, absent a trade, George to the Lakers is not a sure thing. No matter the level of his perceived interest in the purple and gold, if he is traded this summer to a genuine contender like those who are rumored to be interested in him, the Lakers run a serious risk of losing him forever.
Assume, hypothetically, that he is traded to the Celtics for the number one pick in the draft, which would be enticing to the Pacers unless they are seriously delusional. Boston finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference and advanced to the conference finals.
With LeBron James a year older and the Cavaliers suddenly looking vulnerable, Boston could seriously contend for a spot in the NBA finals next year, especially if they were to get Paul George on their roster. If that were to occur, does anyone believe he would then leave to join a Lakers team that will probably miss the playoffs again next season?
Of all the issues facing the Lakers this summer, the question of whether to trade for George is perhaps the most difficult to answer. Legitimate arguments could be made both for and against the trade.
The Lakers are clearly counting on PG-13 after next year, and if it doesn’t happen, it would be a blow to the rebuilding efforts. At the same time, if they don’t want to give up their number two draft pick, a George trade would likely require the team to part with as many as three members of the young core. That would have to include Brandon Ingram or D’Angelo Russell, and maybe even both.
This is the dilemma that Johnson and Pelinka are wrestling with right now. At some point this summer it is likely that conversations about a George trade will ramp up. That means the clock is ticking, and it puts a lot of pressure on the Lakers’ front office to make a decision.