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PG-13 to Dubs? Cavs? Blazers? Inside Pacers' Wild Negotiations for Paul George

Ric Bucher@@RicBucherNBA Senior WriterJune 20, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 23: Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 23, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers 106-102 to sweep the series 4-0. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The beauty of All-Star forward Paul George making it clear he will not stay with the Indiana Pacers beyond this season is he's eliminated all of the guesswork for general manager Kevin Pritchard.

The curse is Pritchard now has the task of getting value for a three-time All-NBA and All-Defensive player in the prime of his career with the entire world knowing he not only has to be moved but also his heart is set on eventually winding up with the Los Angeles Lakers.

One team front-office source said Pritchard's asking price is "picks and young players," while another said a "realistic" return would be "a good young player and a second-round pick" for any team looking at George as strictly a one-year rental.

That's why several league executives anticipate it will be later rather than sooner that Pritchard moves George, possibly even sometime during the season.

"They're going to drag this out," says an Eastern Conference senior VP. "It's always possible somebody jumps out there and offers a lottery pick and a starter, but there's a better chance that teams sit back and wait to see if they're one piece away. It's a big risk. You give too much for a guy who then walks, it could set you back two, three years."

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 23: Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers reacts against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 23, 2017 in Indianapolis, India
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
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The Lakers have no plans to make a bid for George, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne has reported, and that made sense to several executives; the notion that Los Angeles would give up assets out of fear George might go elsewhere and suddenly change his mind about L.A. didn't.

Pritchard, league sources said, immediately tried to create a bidding war between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers by intimating to both teams that the other was interested in George. Several league executives questioned why George would change his mind about going to L.A. to stay long term in Cleveland, assuming that his desire to leave Indianapolis had to do with climate and geography, along with recent rumors that LeBron James could bolt for L.A. next summer.

One Eastern Conference senior VP indicated that the talks, reported by ESPN's Marc Stein, between the Cavs and Chicago Bulls to send shooting guard Jimmy Butler to Cleveland were the result of any George discussion being tabled. The Cavaliers also have already traded their 2017 and 2019 first-round picks. (By league rule, they can't deal their 2018 first-round pick unless they acquire another one, so if Pritchard is set on getting a first-round pick for George, a third team would have to be involved.) 

The Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets, two young teams who battled for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference last spring, were floated by separate executives as squads that might be willing to rent George if they find themselves moving further up the conference's playoff food chain. Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum said both on social media in answer to a fan and on a podcast with SportsNet New York's Taylor Rooks that he'd like to see the team go after George. 

"He gives you that star power," he said on the podcast. "You're in the Western Conference. Obviously, there's a lot of very good teams. A lot of teams that are deep. A lot of teams that have three, four horsemen. Some teams have five. And you have to be able to match them blow for blow."

The Blazers have a solid young core in McCollum, point guard Damian Lillard and center Jusuf Nurkic. The Eastern Conference senior VP, though, said he couldn't imagine that George would consider staying with the Blazers beyond next season.

But the notion that Pritchard would settle for a second-round pick and a good young player was immediately shot down by an Eastern Conference personnel director. "KP isn't going to be the one to trade him and get nothing for him," the personnel director said.

Steve Dipaola/Associated Press

Two other front-office executives from different teams independently compared the Pacers' situation with George to what the Denver Nuggets faced with Carmelo Anthony going into the 2010-11 campaign. When Anthony declined to assure then-GM Masai Ujiri before the season started he'd sign an extension, Ujiri did not hesitate to let the league know Anthony was available. The 13-player, three-team deal that sent him to the New York Knicks, though, went down at the February trade deadline six months later

And while at first it appeared that New York had gotten the better end of the deal, Ujiri was able to strip the Knicks of enough quality players that Denver still made the playoffs that season, as well as the following two.

"If you wait, it puts pressure on George to play well going into the season," the Eastern Conference senior VP said.

Wherever George lands and whatever Pritchard gets for him, there's only one certainty: Pacers advisor and legendary Celtics forward Larry Bird, who resigned as team president and handed the reins over to Pritchard shortly before George alerted the Pacers of his intentions, still knows how to shake himself free at just the right moment. 

          

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @RicBucher.

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