Paul George broke the hearts of Indiana basketball fans by being honest Sunday: I’m not going to re-up with the Pacers.
Better now than just leaving them at the altar next June, right?
The good news is, the Pacers can still trade George for something, and build around Myles Turner. Bob Kravitz wasn’t being honest with himself when he wrote the Pacers won’t get free agents next month because of George’s comments … newsflash, they weren’t getting any regardless.
Fear not, Pacers fans. The rebuild isn’t going to be that difficult.
- There aren’t any onerous contracts on the books.* GOOD NEWS! The player with the longest deal? Their 2nd best player, Myles Turner. It’s his rookie contract. For all the Larry Bird bashing, he played this well: Thaddeus Young, Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson have options after next season (Young and Ellis could opt-out to hit free agency; the team would not bring back Jefferson at $10 million in 2018-2019.
- You’ve got a potential star in Turner. Only 20, he had a strong sophomore year: 14.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, and he made 40 three-pointers, which is something to build on. Kevin Love, in his 2nd year at the age of 21, made 35 three-pointers. They’re different players at this age, but it’s tough not to love Turner.
- I believe the best the Pacers can do for Paul George in a trade is D'Angelo Russell from the Lakers. I’d rather have a young point guard with upside than Kevin Love or whatever else is out there. Maybe the Celtics swoop in with some role players and draft picks, but Russell has star potential.
- Indiana picks 18th in the draft, and five point guards will be off the board (Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith, and Frank Ntilikina). There isn’t a 6th one work taking here, so perhaps they could trade down to accumulate another pick. I think point guards Frank Jackson of Duke, Jawun Evans of Oklahoma State, and perhaps Derrick White of Colorado will be available in the 20s. The guy I love in the 2nd round (Indiana picks 47th) is Frank Mason of Kansas.
- Assuming they don’t land D’Angelo Russell via trade, I don’t think it makes sense to pay heavily for Jrue Holiday or Kyle Lowry in free agency. It’s not going to get you anywhere in the immediate future, except prevent you from landing the #1 pick. Bring back George Hill if Utah doesn’t want to pay him? You could always drive up the price for the Warriors and Spurs and make a run at Shaun Livingston or Patty Mills.
- This one may be tough to stomach, but I think you’ve got to let Jeff Teague walk, and even CJ Miles. Why spend cap room now, when you’ll need it. Boston is only going to improve. The Wizards are going to be a 2nd-tier contender in the East again. Milwaukee seems to be on the make. The 76ers, if healthy, may grab a playoff spot. Why would Indiana want to be stuck in the middle with teams like Toronto, Atlanta, and Chicago trending downward?
This is the reality of sports: It’s tough for teams to consistently be contending. With Reggie Miller leading the way, the Pacers lost in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1994, 1995, 1998 and 1999. They broke through in 2000 but lost in the Finals. Then they didn’t get back to the Conference Finals until 2004 with the young core of Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest and Al Harrington. Paul George got the Pacers back to the Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014.
That’s 24 years, and eight trips to the Conference Finals. You could argue 20 teams in the NBA would sign up for that in a heartbeat. Larry Bird has done this franchise well. It’s time for a full scale rebuild, like the lean 2007-2010 seasons (no playoff trips).
* Yet? The Pacers would almost certainly have to take on the the Luol Deng or Timofey Mozgov contract from the Lakers to unload Paul George.