What's Next for Paul George?
It seems like it’s been a decade, but just 3 seasons ago the Indiana Pacers had the best record in the East and made it to the Conference Finals in consecutive seasons. Three years later, only Paul George and recently resigned Lance Stephenson remain from those teams. After recovering from a broken leg in the summer of 2014, PG13 bounced back during the 2015-16 season, leading the Pacers to 45 wins and a tough seven-game series against the Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. Larry Bird upgraded the Pacers roster during the 2016 offseason, adding veterans Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson in hopes of competing for a chance to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals. The roster looked great on paper, but the Pacers were three games worse than the previous year and barely squeaked into the playoffs despite Paul George having the best season of his career. The 7th seeded Pacers were matched against LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of this year’s playoffs. Indiana fell just short in Games 1 and 2. However, after an epic collapse in Game 3 and a subpar performance from George in Game 4, the Pacers were swept by the Cavs, leaving fans to wonder if they have seen the last of PG in a Pacers uniform.
If Paul George remains in Indiana, it will likely be because he was named to one of the 2017 All-NBA Teams. If George is selected, he will be eligible for an extension worth roughly $212 million over six seasons; opposing teams would be able to offer PG $123 million over 4 seasons. If George doesn't sign an extension in the offseason, Larry Bird may be forced to trade George to avoid the risk of PG leaving in exchange for nothing via free agency in the summer of 2018. If Bird makes a trade, these are three potential destinations for the four-time All-Star.
Los Angeles Lakers
Magic Johnson has made it clear he intends to bring a superstar to the Lakers, and Paul George has to be his #1 priority this summer. The Lakers have a ton of young talent to offer Indiana, and they may have a top 3 pick in the draft to offer as well. Paul George in exchange for Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, and a top 3 pick should be enough for Magic to get his good friend Larry Bird to make a deal. However, the Lakers brass should be cautious during the process of making this trade. Paul George was a bit spoiled when he first entered the league, not having to immediately take on the role of a leader since the Pacers had All-Stars David West and Danny Granger. This past season, as the sole leader of the Pacers, George repeatedly called out teammates for their lack of effort and level of play. Those actions could be detrimental to a young team like the Lakers psyche and confidence, especially if they are struggling. It was rumored that if traded, PG would only sign an extension with the Lakers, so a move to LA already seems in play for George.
Rumored to have nearly acquired George at the trade deadline, the Celtics are certain to revisit those talks with Indiana during the offseason. Boston has plenty of assets at their disposal and should look to use them after their recent struggles against an inferior Bulls team in the playoffs. Paul George would give the Celtics the piece they need in order to truly contend with the Cavaliers. George can start at either forward spot, handle playmaking duties when IT goes to the bench and he’s an equal matchup for the likes of LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Giannis Antetokounmpo and DeMar Derozan. A package of Jaylen Brown, Avery Bradley or Marcus Smart (preferably Smart), and Brooklyn’s 2017 or 2018 first-round pick will be enough to help the Pacers start rebuilding around Myles Turner. This deal would also keep most of Boston’s depth intact, as Jae Crowder can be moved to the bench. With PG, the Celtics would have a legit chance at competing for multiple championships for years to come.
Los Angeles Clippers
It’s clear PG13 wants to play in LA, and it's clear he wants to win; the Clippers can offer him the best of both worlds. He won't be in purple and gold, but he will play in the Staples Center and get a chance to play with point god Chris Paul. George would give the Clippers the small forward they've desperately needed, and he can play the 4 for stretches as well. He would make the CP3-DeAndre Jordan pick & roll unguardable, as teams would have to stay at home on PG and JJ Redick while DJ dives to the rim for those alley-oops. Blake Griffin is a free agent and would have to agree to a sign-and-trade, but the deal works out well for both parties. Blake would be perfect alongside stretch 5 Myles Turner. He would also wreak havoc with Jeff Teague in the pick & roll against Eastern Conference opponents. This is a deal that should be a top 2 priority for Doc Rivers this summer; resigning Chris Paul should be the first. If Doc can get Paul George, when it's all over, maybe Chris Paul’s statue won't be the only one wearing a Clippers jersey outside of the Staples Center.