Larry Bird’s reasoning for leaving the Indiana Pacers might have become a little clearer. As it turns out, he was just getting a head start on Paul George.
According to The Vertical, George has informed the Pacers that he will leave the team following the 2017-18 season; he prefers to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. George is a native of Southern California and played his collegiate basketball at Fresno State.
George will receive considerable interest on the open market, even if he does plan to sign with the Lakers. Conventional wisdom had the Cleveland Cavaliers as a possible landing spot, given the Cavs’ ability to trade Kevin Love for George. Although the salaries match in a theoretical trade, Cleveland might be hesitant to make a deal given George’s desire to play elsewhere.
The reports surrounding George do the Pacers no favors. The Lakers do not intend to part with any of their young players, and other teams will likely hold off on a trade if they feel that wooing George is an impossible task.
The Pacers selected George with the 10th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He is a four-time All-Star and won the league’s Most Improved Player Award in 2013. George averaged 23.7 PPG and 6.6 RPG in 2016-17.
The Pacers have been stuck in neutral after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014. Much like LeBron James’ decision to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers offer a host of young assets that would make them attractive in the future.
George, however, has not demanded a trade, saying he will play out his contract. "I am a Pacer, I am under contract and I intend to play,'' he said recently.
The dreaded “vote of confidence” did not seem to bode well for Indiana. The team and new president Kevin Pritchard must now weigh the pros and cons of dealing George. The Pacers risk losing him for nothing in free agency, but they now have less leverage given George’s desire to play with one specific team.