Paul George has likely played his last game in an Indiana Pacers’ uniform.
The four-time All-Star and Palmdale, California native reportedly informed the Pacers that he intends to leave the organization in the summer of 2018 when the 27-year-old can opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent, with the Los Angeles Lakers being his preferred landing spot, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Wojnarowski’s report isn’t exactly earth shattering news. Throughout last season word leaked out that George was “hell-bent” on getting to the Lakers and lifting his hometown team out of NBA purgatory. But while it was well known within NBA circles that George never frayed from that stance over the past few months, the Pacers could “move fast” on a trade according to ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe. With the draft on Thursday and Indiana likely looking for an additional first round pick if they were to part with George, the swingman could be on the move by the end of the month.
The Nuggets had interest in George as recently as February’s trade deadline when Denver reportedly made a “monster offer” for the forward but talks went nowhere. George wasn’t interested in committing to the Nuggets long term and Denver didn’t want to give up one of their prized assets for a player that could leave town in just a year’s time.
But with Indiana facing an increased amount of pressure from George’s camp, it could make sense for the Nuggets to inquire about just what it would take for Indiana to part with arguably their best player in franchise history since the Pacers’ asking price is surely lower now than it was at the deadline.
Indiana’s asking price plummeting
Last season, Denver’s “monster offer,” wasn’t enough for Indiana to bite but now Pacers’ General Manager Kevin Pritchard has much less leverage than earlier this year. The Nuggets also need to consolidate assets and refine their rotation — something they’ll do at some point this summer — but an addition like George in exchange for one or two pieces could fast track that process.
NBA Twitter savant Nate Duncan argued Sunday that accurate value for George would be along the same lines of what Denver paid for Andre Iguodala when the Nuggets acquired him from Philadelphia prior to the 2012 season. Denver gave up a starter-level player in Arron Afflalo and a first-round lottery pick for Iguodala who eventually bolted for Golden State after just one season in Denver in the same fashion that George could jet to Los Angeles in 2018.
If Denver can garner any interest from Indiana on point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who’s role with Jamal Murray and Jameer Nelson both under contract, remains hazy, plus the No. 13 pick in exchange for George, the Nuggets should act fast. That package may not get a deal done, but would likely start a dialogue depending on Indiana’s opinion of Mudiay. Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, and Will Barton are three other “starter-level” players Denver could offer the Pacers’ their pick of as well.
Danilo Gallinari, who started 63 games at small forward for Denver last season, is an unrestricted free agent and could be elsewhere in 2017 and the Nuggets would seemingly be less inclined to re-up Gallinari if they were able to land George. George would slip right in at small forward and immediately improve the Nuggets’ defense, something General Manager Tim Connelly has said is one of their goals this summer.
In what’s sure to be another all-out push for the playoffs next season in Denver, George would significantly increase the Nuggets’ chances of landing a top-eight seed in the Western Conference.
Denver’s stock rises around the league
Armed with $40+ million of cap space this summer once Gallinari enters free agency, the Nuggets will likely call max contract-level players like Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap and try and give them the perfect sales pitch as to why they should play their next four seasons in Denver.
A player-first organization that’s committed to their current track — as evident by President Josh Kroenke stepping up to the plate and retaining now General Manager Arturas Karnisovas, who was a finalist for the Milwaukee Bucks GM post, would be a strong selling point.
Also, Connelly recently said that agents have told him that their clients want to play with Jokic, and his assertion was given legs last week when a Los Angeles Times report said free agent Chris Paul “has plans to talk with the Denver Nuggets” once the free agency period begins on July 1.
Whether it’s Paul, Millsap, Griffin, or any other free agent Denver has their eyes on this summer, a horse like George already in a Nuggets’ uniform would go a long way in a free agency pitch. With George comes better television ratings, a quick uptick in Denver’s league-worst attendance, a spot they’ve occupied for the last two seasons, and more notoriety and exposure around the league as well.
That’s an enticing scenario for Nuggets’ ownership and management.
George is still LA-bound
Even if Denver manages to execute a trade for George, it still doesn’t erase the notion that the 6-foot-8 wing is still likely destined for the Lakers. George’s infatuation with Los Angeles was reportedly one of the reasons talks didn’t progress further at February’s deadline and could become a distraction if George does wind up in Denver.
The Nuggets would be giving up multiple assets for 82 regular season games and potentially one or maybe two playoff series for George, and then what? Unless Denver is able to use George to attract free agents the Nuggets would be right back where they started.
It could be a year-long distraction, something that could create a potential divide between members of Denver’s youthful locker room who are planning to stick with the Nuggets at least through their rookie contracts and George, who would come to Denver with one foot already out the door.
Of course, there’s a chance that Denver, with Jokic and what they might be able to do on the floor next season, can convince George to re-sign with the Nuggets. Surely there are organizations throughout the league that feel that if they could just get George inside their front doors and ingratiated in their culture and day-to-day routine, that the chances of the SoCal native putting off his return home would climb.
But with the recent news and affirmation that George’s desire to wind up in Los Angeles has not waivered, it’s a difficult proposition to get behind.
Denver’s potential acquisition of George really comes down to what Indiana’s asking price is and just how much that’s fallen from February. A rotation player outside of Jokic, Murray or Harris, plus the 13th overall pick is a good place for a conversation to start but who knows what kind of other offers competing franchises like the Lakers or Cavaliers will come to the table with.
George is an All-Star and All-NBA-level talent. He can single handily win games with both his offense and defense, can ISO the heck out of you and get a bucket when you need one, but also is a fierce off the ball mover, shooter and playmaker. George has logged an impressive 65 playoff games over his seven-year run in Indiana — that’s five more than LaMarcus Aldridge and just one fewer than Carmelo Anthony.
He’s dueled with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the Eastern Conference Finals and averaged 24 points across those six games at just 23-years-old. These playoffs, George willed a mediocre Pacers team to the eighth seed and averaged 28.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists over four games against the Cavaliers.
George is a top-tier two-way wing perfectly suited for today’s game with still another level in his game to unlock, a leap he might be able to make alongside an offensive player like Jokic.
Denver should make a play for George but not overpay for someone who is an All-Star talent, but one that’s likely heading west in a year’s time. George is a special player that Denver should try to get their hands on in the coming week but his future aspirations don’t make him worth a potential bidding war.