Potential Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Pacers Star Paul George
Paul George's trade value plummeted Sunday.
According to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, George officially "informed" the Indiana Pacers "that he plans to become a free agent in the summer of 2018 and will leave the franchise—preferably for the Los Angeles Lakers."
It doesn't get much worse than this if you're Indiana.
Keep this in mind as we roll through potential packages and landing spots for George. Some teams will be willing to roll the dice, whether they're prepared to let him walk in 2018 or they believe one season is enough of time to change his mind. But as Wojnarowski relayed, "Indiana's ability to find a trade for George elsewhere has become increasingly limited, if not crippled, because NBA teams believe that it’s George’s intention to eventually sign with the Lakers as a free agent in 2018."
Getting anything close to fair value for him is now out of the question. The Pacers can only hope to leave the bargaining table short of being fleeced for a player they should have already moved.
Cleveland Rolls the Dice on LeBron's Courtship Powers
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: SF Paul George
Indiana Pacers Receive: PF Kevin Love
This idea was inevitable. Using Kevin Love to poach George or Jimmy Butler has been the Cleveland Cavaliers' unofficial goal since falling to the Golden State Warriors in five games during the 2017 NBA Finals. The scenario will only heat up after Indiana reached out to them as part of its due diligence, according to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin.
Losing Love for an admitted flight risk stings. The earliest he can become a free agent is 2019 (player option), and he played sensational basketball for much of the playoffs, shooting the lights out and pounding the glass in volume.
And yet, as SI.com's Ben Golliver wrote, this is the price Cleveland must pay to adequately rival Golden State:
"This isn't a "Trade Love because he sucks!" decision, but rather a "Trade Love because matching up with Durant's Warriors demands it" decision. Indeed, Love was excellent throughout the 2017 playoffs—shooting the ball well, hitting the glass and playing passable defense at both the four and five—and much improved in the 2017 Finals compared to last year. But the Cavaliers have learned over the last two weeks that they can't beat the Warriors in an up-and-down shootout and that they must improve their defensive personnel. Sacrificing Love's spread offense and rebounding is the price Cleveland must pay to improve its defense and interchangeability."
LeBron James will be a free agent in 2018. The Cavaliers don't have time to improve their roster through alternative means. They are capped out, woefully thin on tangible trade assets and cannot trade a first-rounder until 2021.
Love isn't the ideal return for a Pacers team pivoting into a rebuild. He turns 29 before next season and can leave in two years time. But as Larry Bird made clear to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe in March before resigning as team president, Indiana isn't a market that can afford to bottom out. Pairing Love with Myles Turner keeps the Pacers relevant now, and they can always try to flip Love for picks and prospects later.
PG13 Takes a More Complicated Route to Cleveland
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: SF Paul George, No. 51 pick (via Denver)
Denver Nuggets Receive: PF Kevin Love
Indiana Pacers Receive: SG Malik Beasley, PF Kenneth Faried, No. 13 pick (via Denver)
The Cavaliers become a more viable trade partner if they find a third team to take Love and send Indiana the mix of picks, prospects and reasonably priced deals they can't.
Enter the Denver Nuggets.
Slotting Love next to Nikola Jokic won't help the defense one iota, but the Nuggets shouldn't care. They need another star—almost any star. Love's outside-in game helps them sustain what was the league's best offense over the final 57 games, and they'll have the leftover cap space necessary to add perimeter defenders who mask their frontcourt turnstile.
Indiana is essentially getting two first-round picks and Kenneth Faried for its troubles—a package more in line with its rebuilding efforts.
Malik Beasley isn't a Paul George replacement, but the Pacers need a wing prospect after shedding an All-Star forward. While they could hope Luke Kennard or Donovan Mitchell falls to No. 13, grabbing Beasley and selecting one of the many stretch bigs available in this year's draft is the more balanced play.
Denver can sub in Wilson Chandler for Faried if the Pacers don't want another non-shooter, but he'll demand a semi-lucrative raise next summer (player option). Fared is still just 27 and signed through 2018-19. His team-friendly deal allows Indiana to use him as a starter next to Turner or as a spark plug off the bench.
It's an underwhelming return for a superstar, but the Pacers don't have much of a choice. They're lucky the Cavaliers should be desperate enough to help them secure 40 cents on the dollar for a player they've needed to offload for some time.
Denver Spits in the Face of Caution
Denver Nuggets Receive: SF Paul George
Indiana Pacers Receive: PF Kenneth Faried, PG Emmanuel Mudiay, 2018 lottery-protected first-round pick
If the Nuggets are feeling frisky—and perhaps a little reckless—they needn't help the Cavaliers trade for George.
They can deal for him themselves.
George popped up on the Nuggets' radar at the February trade deadline, but they were dissuaded from landing him after his camp "warned" them he'd leave in free agency, according to Wojnarowski (via Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll). Nothing has changed. George continues to have eyes for the Lakers, so the Nuggets would have to acquire him knowing the relationship is likely temporary.
That's a problem if you're coughing up Gary Harris or Jamal Murray. The risk is worlds easier to reconcile when assembling a package around expendable assets.
Emmanuel Mudiay won't ever have a rightful place in the offense with Jokic running the show. He is nonessential. At the same time, if the Pacers can get their hands on a top-seven prospect with two years left on his rookie-scale contract, they should do it. He plays point guard, and George's exit should spell the end to Jeff Teague's tenure in Indiana.
Faried, again, offers immediate offensive and rebounding jolts. The Pacers can ask for Chandler if they want, but the future first-round pick is a bigger hangup. Landing Mudiay should satiate any desire they have to get another pick in this year's draft, and they won't have to wait long for a lottery-protected choice to convey when their trade partner is adding George.
Denver is assuming a lion's share of the risk here. George's infatuation with Los Angeles might even make this an overpay. But this deal only costs the Nuggets around $1.5 million in cap space. They'll still have the cash to sniff around big names in free agency and the assets to remain blockbuster players on the trade market—flexibility they can use to pitch George on a long-term marriage.
The Lakers Expedite Paul George's Arrival: Best Lowball Offer Edition
Indiana Pacers Receive: PG Jordan Clarkson, PF Julius Randle, No. 28 pick
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: SF Paul George
As of now, according to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers "have shown no inclination yet of surrendering anything" for George when they can sign him outright next summer. Sources told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor this will change if the Cavaliers make major headway in negotiations, but until then, Los Angeles holds all the cards.
What do you trade for a player who will cost nothing beyond cap space in one year? Very little.
Brandon Ingram, D'Angelo Russell and the No. 2 pick should all be off the table without further incentive. The Pacers would be fortunate to extract this much from the Lakers.
Jordan Clarkson is a quality offensive combo guard on a manageable contract, and Julius Randle, while due for a raise next July, made real strides as a playmaking hub last season. If the Pacers want more than this, the Lakers should pass.
Sure, George could end up signing with another team once he's traded elsewhere. But this isn't 2011, when the New York Knicks tricked themselves into thinking Carmelo Anthony turned them into a contender and mortgaged their future in a midseason blockbuster even though they could have signed him that summer. The championship picture isn't wide open. George doesn't put the Lakers in the same stratosphere as the Warriors. They know it, and he knows it.
So if he wants to go somewhere else, let him. More likely, though, his interest in playing for the Lakers is about location and familiarity (he's from California). He could relocate to Los Angeles no matter what, knowing a clear path toward a title doesn't exist.
Either way, the Lakers shouldn't be offering the Pacers much at all. George himself might prefer they retain Randle, with whom he shares an agent, and Clarkson. This package, which also includes the No. 28 pick, should be their best offer unless another suitor can scare them into giving up more.
Hollywood Expedites PG13's Arrival: Not-as-Gross-for-Indiana Edition
Indiana Pacers Receive: C Timofey Mozgov, PG D'Angelo Russell
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: SF Paul George
Adding George puts the Lakers in a slightly awkward position. The kiddies won't be good enough to contend for a championship right away, but you don't acquire a 27-year-old superstar with the intention of slow-playing your rebuild.
Trading for George would be the first of a multistep process in which the Lakers bring on at least two established marquee talents. Deal for him now, and they'll want to be free-agency aggressors in 2018, when James, DeMarcus Cousins and Russell Westbrook are all ticketed for the open market.
That's not possible while carrying contracts for Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov—not with Clarkson on the books and Randle entering restricted free agency. And moving either of them isn't easy. Low-end first-round goodies, such as the No. 28 pick, probably aren't enough of a sweetener.
Pawning off Mozgov in any George deal is a huge win. Assuming they don't make other expensive roster tweaks, the Lakers would begin the 2018 offseason under the projected $102 million salary cap—all while floating free-agent holds for George and Randle.
From there, they must still dump two of Clarkson, Deng and Randle to carve out max room, but the gymnastics involved are exponentially easier with Mozgov already gone. The No. 28 pick—at that point an actual player—most likely gets the final two years of Deng's pact off the ledger, and the Lakers needn't do anything to renounce Randle or find a taker for Clarkson.
Sending out Russell, who also shares an agent with George, is suboptimal collateral damage. But he becomes excess if the Lakers, as expected, draft Lonzo Ball. And getting someone like him, a budding commodity on the come-up, is enough for the Pacers to swallow the three seasons remaining on Mozgov's contract. Russell has two years left on his rookie-scale agreement, and quality restricted free agents rarely change locales. Indiana can keep him under team control for at least another seven years when factoring in his next deal.
The No. 2 pick stays untouchable in this scenario. The 28th overall selection can be in play if the Lakers are worried about another team superseding their offer, but if the Pacers want the opportunity to draft Ball or Josh Jackson, they'll need include Al Jefferson's pact and their own pick (No. 18) while taking back both Deng and Mozgov. And even then, the Lakers could balk.
Miami Takes PG13's Talents from Indiana
Indiana Pacers Receive: SG Wayne Ellington, SF Justise Winslow, No. 14 pick
Miami Heat Receive: SF Paul George
According to David Aldridge of NBA.com, the Pacers are asking George admirers for two first-round picks and a starter. Among every team outside of Cleveland, there may not be one more willing to approach that asking price than the Miami Heat.
Miami team president Pat Riley collects superstars for a living. It seemed like he might change his ways after the Heat almost parlayed a ragtag roster into a playoff berth, but no. League sources told Lowe after the 2017 NBA Finals that Riley is "loading up" to pursue Gordon Hayward. George's availability will undoubtedly catch his eye.
Remove George's impending free agency from the equation, and trading for him is actually preferable to signing Hayward. George will earn around $19.5 million next season—almost $11 million less than Hayward's max salary. The Heat take on a little less than $9 million in extra salary with this package, which still leaves them with more than $20 million to burn on free agents. That's money they can use to re-sign James Johnson and Dion Waiters or chase a second-tier talent like Danilo Gallinari, JaMychal Green or Joe Ingles.
The Heat's 2018 and 2021 first-round picks belong to the Phoenix Suns. They'll need to flip the player they draft at No. 14 to push this deal through—a gray area when you're including Justise Winslow and have been a revolving door for first-round choices since drafting Dwyane Wade in 2003.
Still, they have other young gems on the roster to offset the departure of two more firsts. Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder and Josh Richardson ensure the Heat won't pine for perimeter depth, and they made a push for the postseason this year without Winslow.
Give the Pacers Winslow's defense and playmaking and they should pounce, even if they don't believe he'll ever make threes. Wayne Ellington is a nice one-year stopgap following C.J. Miles' inevitable exit, and at this stage of the game, Indiana would be foolish to turn down any lottery pick.
Heck, unless the Heat are unequivocally certain they can prevent George from bolting, they might only dangle one of Winslow and their pick alongside Ellington.
Boston Finally Makes Its Move
Boston Celtics Receive: Paul George
Indiana Pacers Receive: PG Terry Rozier, No. 37 pick, 2018 first-round pick (via Lakers, protected Nos. 2 through 5) or 2019 first-round pick (more favorable of Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers, protected No. 1 overall)
The Boston Celtics can blow every imaginable offer for George out of the water. But will they? That's a negative.
Renting George isn't an option the Celtics are considering, according to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler. They'll be at the bargaining table because they're always at the bargaining table, but much like the Lakers, they needn't bend over backward to accommodate the Pacers' asking price.
Other squads will lament whiffing on George. The Celtics? They'll just resort to using cap space on another star, like Hayward. That's been the plan all along, and it'll be difficult, albeit not impossible, to add Hayward while also squandering the salary-cap flexibility it'll take to reel in George.
Things change if the Cavaliers fall out of the running and the Lakers aren't coerced into moving on George now. Under those circumstances, the Pacers would be lucky to get for George what the Sacramento Kings brokered for Cousins—Buddy Hield, a top-10 pick and filler.
That kind of an offer is right in the Celtics' wheelhouse. After trading the No. 1 pick to the Philadelphia 76ers, they can assemble a package around the Lakers' protected first-rounder in 2018, which they'll get if it falls between second and fifth overall. If that pick doesn't convey, they'll have the more favorable of the Kings' or Sixers' first-rounder in 2019, unless one of those selections are No. 1 overall.
Receiving a high-end first-rounder by 2019 should pique the Pacers' attention. They'll have Terry Rozier and the No. 37 pick to hold them over in the meantime, and if they desire a more immediate return, they can aim for a combination of Boston's own 2018 selection and 2019 picks from the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies.
Once more, the Pacers are settling for a below-market return. Then again, with George halfway to Los Angeles, this is the market in which they're shopping.