Paul George has informed the Indiana Pacers he intends to opt-out of his contract next summer and become a free agent. George has also let it be know that he would prefer to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. At this point, the Pacers have just one option available to them: trade George immediately.
It’s clear PG13 isn’t up for building something in Indianapolis. He wants the freedom that comes with free agency and it will be hard to turn down the lure of the West Coast. Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard has reportedly already engaged the Cleveland Cavaliers about a deal for George on the premise that he’d be a one-year rental. With the draft on tap this week, Pritchard needs to be working the phones to make a move as soon as possible.
There’s no real reason for the Lakers to be backed into a deal with Indiana now, since George will be a free agent next summer and the team isn’t close to competing. Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka can just sit back this offseason and continue their slow rebuild, with an eye towards bringing George home when he opts out of his contract.
For the Pacers, the most important thing right now is preparing for life without its long-time star. The team needs to focus on building around Myles Turner, who looks like he could be a star. Turner is 21 and is coming off a season in which he averaged 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.1 blocks in 31.4 minutes per game. The versatile big man’s PER jumped from 15.51 as a rookie in 2015-16 to 18.51 during his second season. Turner is the team’s future, and George is rapidly becoming its past.
Indiana has some bad contracts on its book that it could attach to George as it tries to create a new, young nucleus. Thaddeus Young is due nearly $27 million over the next two seasons and Monta Ellis is set to earn nearly $23 million in that time. Neither guy has lived up to his current deal and hometown boy Jeff Teague is a free agent this summer. Teague was solid in his first year with the Pacers, averaging 15.3 points, 7.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds in 32.4 minutes per game. The 29-year-old is likely due a hefty raise this summer and Pritchard has to decide if he wants to invest in him long-term.
Turner and Teague would be solid building blocks, but Indiana needs much, much more if it wants to create a long-term contender. The Pacers own the 18th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, which could net them a solid player since this year’s class is incredibly deep. But if they could somehow stockpile picks or young assets in return for their current franchise player, it could accelerate the rebuilding process tremendously.
The Pacers now know Paul George wants out. He’s not going to be around in a year and they need to make a move to secure their future. Allowing George to leave next summer without netting anything in return is simply not an option.