In wake of Larry Bird stepping down as the president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers, the attention has quickly shifted toward the long-term future of All-Star forward Paul George with the franchise.
According to USA Today‘s Sam Amick, Paul George still appears to be “hell-bent” on making his way to the Los Angeles Lakers one way or another in the near future.
“Whether in free agency two summers from now or via trade before then, the four-time All-Star is still hell-bent on joining the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe now more than ever.”
There have been several reports over the last few months since the All-Star break that Paul George has his eyes only fixated on joining his hometown team. The fact that George has taken public barbs at his team that only grew louder in the playoffs during the Pacers disappointing first-round sweep at the hands of the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers gives the feeling that he is gone past believing he can win a title in Indiana.
Paul George has two years left on his five-year, $91.5 million deal that holds a player option for the final year worth $20.7 million. Another intriguing scenario that could arise that may have a tremendous impact on his future with Indiana is the “designated player” rule from the new collective bargaining agreement that allows for veterans players that meet certain criteria the opportunity to earn more money on a new contract offered by their current teams. These accolades consist of NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA First Team, All-NBA Second Team, and All-NBA Third Team.
In Paul George’s case, if he garners any of the All-NBA team honors for the 2016-17 season, the Pacers would be in the position to offer him at least $70 million more than any other team in free agency. It’s a figure that likely will grow much larger given that the league salary cap continues to rise with each season further into the massive TV contract that the NBA has in place. This could realistically give Paul George some pause on his desire to join the Lakers because he would risk leaving a significant amount of money on the table.
With all these rumors swirling around the franchise, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan has indicated that he has already spoken to Paul George about his future with the team and expects him to be back next season, according to the Indianapolis Star.
“I had a good conversation with Paul,” McMillan said. “He wants the same thing that I want and the organization wants and that’s to win. My plans are that he will be back with us and we’ll be building to be successful next year.”
Paul George is, without a doubt, one of the league’s premier talents at his position. George is coming off one of his best individual campaigns in 2016-17 averaging a career-high 23.7 points that put him 15th in the NBA in scoring in the regular season and fifth-highest scoring average in the franchise history. Paul George also finished with 195 made three-pointers during the regular season, with ranked him 12th in the NBA tied with Hall of Famer Reggie Miller’s 1994-95 campaign for the third-highest total in franchise history.
Despite Paul George lackluster performance in Game 4 against the Cavaliers, shooting just 5-of-21 from the field for 15 points, he put together strong outings in the first three games of the series scoring a combined 97 points, the highest total by a Pacer in franchise history through the first three games of a playoff series. In total, George averaged 32.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 7.7 assists in four games against the Cavaliers.
Although the Pacers appear to be confident that Paul George will at least be back next season, there is still the looming possibility that he bolts in free agency. Keep in mind, Paul George did turn down the possibility of inking a long-term extension in the past with Indiana and that could once again be the case come this offseason.
[Featured Image by Darron Cummings/AP]