The Indiana Pacers Are Dealing With A Difficult Sign Or Trade Situation Involving Paul George, Will He Stay Or Will He Go

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The Indiana Pacers are faced with a perplexing situation this summer after getting swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. No question looms larger than the one surrounding Paul George entering his option year upon conclusion of next season.

Paul George is an All-Star level talent and borderline All-NBA selection this season, but his intentions and desire to stay in Indiana past next season seem to be shakier than an Andre Roberson free throw. Money, as it does in most situations, could change George’s tenuous state. If George were to make the All-NBA team this year, he’d qualify for the “super-max” extension, which could net him over $200 million over the course of his next contract. The caveat is he’d only be able to receive that by committing to the Pacers. Which would place Indiana in a great position to negotiate with George, because they will have the ability to offer an extra year and more money as a result of the new collective bargaining rules.

If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team this year, that puts pressure on both he and the Pacers to decide what his fate should be. He could play out his option year in the 2017-18 season and hope the media blesses him with an All-NBA selection (or MVP) which would allow him to still qualify for the super-max before seeking his next contract. Things get interesting when you take into account that George has shown more than intriguing interest in playing in Los Angeles. That fact becomes more problematic for the Pacers with Magic Johnson now running the show in La La land. Without the extra money to hold over George’s head this summer, many have speculated if his departure is imminent and if the Pacers should expedite that process to ensure he doesn’t leave them with nothing to show for it.

George is an elite level talent, but he isn’t an elite level leader and that complicates what the Pacers should do with their roster. Do they build around him or move him? His attempts at vocal leadership this year have been a mixed bag where he sometimes comes off as a malcontent. Complaints about touches, his own perception, and sometimes even his teammates have created a confusing message about his happiness. As a two-way player at just 26-years-old who averaged 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 46% shooting—he’s in the prime of his career. He still has another four years or so where he can get better before his numbers start trending the opposite direction.

One stat that has Pacers fans concerned is his career clutch performance stats that show that he is a 0-15 shooter in the final 20 seconds with an opportunity to tie or take a lead. That is a very specific and detailed stat that makes some people wonder about his clutch ability. The better question is if there is enough talent around him to even threaten the opposing team when those situations arise. Indiana’s roster is primarily veteran guys with the exception of Myles Turner and Glenn Robinson. Monta Ellis, Al Jefferson and Thaddeus Young have not proven that they are championship level players. Jeff Teague is more than serviceable, but he’s not an elite level point guard. So it’s hard to argue that George has enough talent around him to be successful without another All-Star caliber player on the roster (with respect to the evolving Myles Turner, who has the potential to become an All-Star caliber center in the eastern conference).

Indiana is in a great place financially with roughly just $78 million committed in salary next season, but that’s without taking into account that Jeff Teague is a free agent. The Pacers haven’t traditionally been a place where big name free agents schedule free agent meetings, let alone actually sign to stay long term. Another wing or stretch-four type of player seems to be needed to fit their current style, but they also need to address their rebounding which ranked 26th in the league this year. A deeper dive into their metrics reveal that the team was fairly mediocre across the board defensively after years of dominance under Frank Vogel. Larry Bird wanted the team to play a more aesthetically pleasing style that meshed with today’s NBA culture where three-pointers rain but the early results are mixed. Still, that style—at least in theory—appeals to the majority of players and might have been part of Bird’s master plan to make his team more appealing to would-be free agents. News has now surfaced that Bird is stepping down, so a new direction may once again be coming. George is pretty well-respected amongst his All-Star caliber peers, but would any of them want to join him in Indiana?

If the answer to that question is no, then the pressure mounts on Myles Turner to be better quicker and for Indiana’s management to hit home runs with draft picks just outside the lottery. It seems like a tall order, but the alternative involves trading George and losing one of the league’s truly talented stars. Any deal involving George would have to get the Pacers players who can contribute immediately along with future draft picks. The Lakers have players who can develop and could interest the Pacers, but they don’t have a stockpile of picks. The Celtics fit both potential needs, but Ainge clutches his assets as if every other general manager is a thief in plain clothes. Those two teams would likely be Indiana’s first points of contact if the decision were to be made that George had to go, but there will also be many teams around the NBA that would be interested in potentially trading for Paul George.

Ultimately the waiting game is one the Pacers may be forced to play. If the Pacers aren’t blown away by offers for George in the summer, then their best option is to wait and hope George reaches All-NBA status over the course of the following season. The irony of this scenario is intriguing as George will have to play well to get himself an All-NBA status voted on by the media, which will in turn allow the Pacers to offer him the most lucrative deal. There are so many moving parts and if George isn’t ultimately motivated by the potential of receiving more money, then it’s all for naught anyway. The Pacers are at a crossroads and don’t want to be a cautionary tale for future franchises who might find themselves in a similar position.

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