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The Paul George Free-Agency Leak Ripple Effect

What the Indiana All-Star’s Hollywood dreams mean for the Lakers, Celtics, and Pacers

(AP Images/Ringer illustration)
(AP Images/Ringer illustration)

A wild weekend that began with rumors of a trade at the top of the draft, which materialized in the blink of an eye, has just been bookended by a potential league-altering leak: Paul George wants the Hollywood treatment.

He entered the NBA in 2010 after two years at Fresno State, 200 miles north of his hometown, Palmdale, California. Ever since, there have been countless rumors that the All-Star has wanted to return to the West Coast. On Sunday, we received the strongest indication yet that George will be adorned in purple and gold come 2018. Or maybe even sooner.

The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday that George has told the Pacers he plans to leave the franchise when he enters free agency in 2018. Per Woj, George has not requested a trade, but wanted the Pacers to know where his mind-set is at regarding his future so that they could prepare accordingly.

George just pulled the NBA free-agency version of a backhanded compliment. Giving the Pacers a heads-up about how you plan to not sign with them so that they can scramble to find a solution doesn’t seem that helpful for the team, but it’s certainly better than George leaving them for nothing. As a small-market club with a questionable future, they have no choice but to comply and cooperate.

The permutations of a deal to get George on the Lakers are endless, especially given that this leak came days before draft night, an evening that could have ever more twists and turns as teams attempt to leverage the fact that the Pacers will attempt to get a return on a departing George.

The Lakers have the clear advantage at this poker table. They’re holding the cards, but also face the biggest predicament. Do they trade for George now and assure that he’ll be a Laker, giving up a pick and a player like Julius Randle or D’Angelo Russell? Or do they bank that George will find his way to L.A. no matter what happens in 2018 — a risk, but given that George has been adamant about wanting to play in Los Angeles, one that puts the odds heavily in their favor.

Sitting at that same table are teams like the Cavs and Celtics. Boston, in particular, has the assets — countless picks, young players, and cheap contracts — to trade for George. They could bet that immediate success in the upcoming season would be enough to entice him to sign long term and try to dethrone LeBron from his seat atop the East. The Cavs are lacking in flexibility, but as Jonathan Tjarks outlined here, it’s not out of the question that they could try to trade Kevin Love for George, whom LeBron loves.

The NBA offseason moves so quickly that a pick the Celtics acquired on Saturday could diminish in value by Thursday if the Lakers decide to trade for George now. Under the Philly-Boston pick swap, the Sixers’ 2018 L.A. pick goes to Boston if it falls between two and five, but that would be unlikely with Paul George in Lakerland. But with a promising young team already in place, Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson would be smart to wait, knowing George wants to join the franchise they’re rebooting. George wouldn’t complete Magic and Pelinka’s work, but he would push it forward. L.A. wants more than just George within the next few years. Maybe that’s Russell Westbrook also coming back to his hometown of L.A. Maybe that’s LeBron.

The Pacers should consider the waiting game, biding their time to see who gets desperate enough to make a large bid for George this season even if his price dwindles by the day now that this leak is out in the open. This is Kevin Pritchard’s first big test as president of basketball operations in Indiana. What he does with the George conundrum could either set the Pacers up for a promising future or set them back even more following this news.

If George waits for free agency, his deal with the Lakers would be four years, $130 million, far less than he would get if he were to re-sign with Indiana. But George knows it’s all about location, location, location, and after Sunday’s Woj bomb, he could either be one step closer to what he’s always wanted or right at the doorstep. The lingering question: Will anyone get in the way?