Paul George vented plenty during Indiana’s 4-game sweep at the hands of LeBron and the Cavs, and Sunday might be the final time PG-13 played in a Pacers jersey.
George is one of the 10 most talented players in the NBA. At 22, he went toe-to-toe with LeBron and the Heat, losing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. At 23, he again led the Pacers to the ECF, but they lost to Miami in six games. Then came the gruesome knee injury. When he returned, gone were all the pieces that were around him for that 2-year run – George Hill, Lance Stephenson, David West, Roy Hibbert.
Now the Pacers have been bounced in the first round two years in a row and it’s time to move on. George turns 27 later this month. Know when Durant left OKC? When he was 27. Know when LeBron left Cleveland? When he was 25.
Nobody would be silly enough to trade for George this offseason unless he was willing to make a long term commitment.
Why shouldn’t that team be the Lakers? Our very own Ryan Phillips, a lifelong Californian, wrote that LA should steer clear of George. It’s level-headed and factually correct – this is a young team that is a few years away, and it has some nice core pieces in place.
I’d counter thusly: The Thunder once had 22-year olds James Harden and Serge Ibaka and 23-year olds Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They reached the Finals. Then, OKC traded Harden out of salary cap fears, later dealt Ibaka, and then Durant left. The NBA has changed financially since 2012, but it is difficult to keep young cores together. I know, OKC isn’t the market LA is.
But after two years, does D'Angelo Russell appear to be in Westbrook’s class? Ingram’s only had one season. Maybe Randle’s ceiling is the 15-8 that Ibaka is capable of nightly. Jordan Clarkson is a very nice reserve, but he’ll never have an MVP-type season that Harden had.
So if I’m the Lakers, I jump at the chance to get Paul George. In a city that now has two NFL teams, a loaded USC football team, and a perennial World Series contender in the Dodgers, the Lakers have been irrelevant since Kobe left. (And they were irrelevant with Kobe in terms of being a contender.)
The next move I make if I’m the Lakers? I lure JJ Redick away from the Clippers. This Lakers team desperately needs shooters. It needs to get Russell to buy into defense, too.
PG – D’Angelo Russell/Jordan Clarkson
SG – JJ Redick/David Nwaba
SF – Paul George/Luol Deng/Corey Brewer
PF – Julius Randle/Larry Nance
C – Ivica Zubac/Timofey Mozgov
There’s obviously the need for Nick Young to opt-out and chase bigger money; they may need to somehow toss in Mozgov (3 years, $50 million left) into the George trade to make salaries work, or Luol Deng (3 years, $54 million left).
The crunch time lineup would have Randle at the 5, George at the 4, and then Russell/Clarkson/Redick in the backcourt.
If Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard can lead their teams to the playoffs in the rugged West, why can’t George? The Nuggets won 40 games and just missed the playoffs, and the Pelicans with a full season of Boogie and Brow could make the postseason, and let’s not forget the Grizzlies are really, really old (three core players are 35-or-older).
Final thought: Easier to recruit high-profile free agents to play with young kids who haven’t gotten to the playoffs yet … or to play with a star in Paul George?