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ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote on the uncertain future of the Indiana Pacers Tuesday morning, detailing how the team’s “window closed fast” and the chances of keeping All-Star forward Paul George seem to be dwindling.
Lowe also revealed that the Pacers engaged in trade talks with at least four teams – the Celtics, Sixers, Hawks, and Nuggets. His report does not mention the Lakers as one of the teams which held trade discussions with Indiana, but Los Angeles has been linked to George in past trade rumors and will be one of the biggest threats to lure George away in free-agency in 2018.
If George does not sign an extension before the start of the 2017-18 season, it would be viewed as a signal from other rival teams that he’s less likely to stay beyond that season.
There could be a similar flurry of rumors regarding the trade availability of George during the summer or leading up to the trade deadline.
Lowe writes that George “would love” to play with Gordon Hayward – a native of Indianapolis and hero at Butler – but it “appears unlikely.”
Hayward could opt out of his contract this summer, but according to an NBA executive, it’s “a two-horse race as it pertains to Hayward’s future,” suggesting he’d only meet with the Celtics and Jazz in free agency, per Basketball Insiders.
The allure of the Celtics would offer the chance to play for arguably Cleveland’s biggest threat in the conference, as well as playing for Brad Stevens, who was Hayward’s head coach at Butler.
George has also been linked to the Celtics, but if Boston had any chance at getting both of those players, it would require a massive dismantling of the roster similar to what Golden State did to acquire Kevin Durant.
The Celtics front office and coaching staff did not want to part with key pieces of its core to acquire a star at the deadline, like Jimmy Butler or George.
It should be an interesting summer to say the least. If George does not sign an extension before next season, the rumblings will start up again. If the Nuggets or Sixers end up being serious candidates to acquire him, that could spark a quick “turnaround” in either of those cities – depending on how much the team would give up.
Denver and Philadelphia are among the teams with the biggest upside in the league and a move like adding George could speed up the process of building the franchise into a contender.
According to Lowe, the February trade talks for George did not reach a “serious” level, but as time winds down, the urgency to get something in return for George will increase, and it’s possible a team could trade relatively little for him to play as a “one-year rental,” compared to what it would have taken to acquire him at the 2017 deadline.
Perhaps that team would want to make sure an agreement is in place for George to re-sign before pulling trigger, but in the mean time, the best thing the Pacers can do is try to give him more reasons to stay.
An impressive run in the playoffs would be a good start. Adding another impact player or two in the offseason on top of that would help. We’ll see how it plays out, but as of March, there’s a realistic chance the Central Division will look vastly different down the road, starting with the futures of George and Butler.