With the draft less than 24 hours away, the NBA has taken no breaks since the Warriors dismantled the Cavaliers in the Finals just nine days ago. We have already seen the Celtics trade the number one pick to the 76ers for the third pick, the Lakers and Nets exchange cornerstones of their respected franchises in D’Angelo Russell and Brook Lopez (along with draft picks and salary dumps), and the never-ending swirl of rumors involving some of the biggest names in the game.
One of those big names is Paul George, the versatile swingman of the Indiana Pacers. Now that he’s made it official that he won’t be resigning after his contract expires next year, teams such as the Celtics, Cavaliers, and his hometown Lakers have inquired with GM Kevin Pritchard on prying him away now.
For a proud and prestigious franchise such as the Lakers, they are desperate to regain credibility after missing the playoffs the past four seasons. But at what cost? As I mentioned earlier, they already traded D’Angelo Russell, whom they drafted second overall just two years ago, to the Nets along with Timofey Mozgov for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick this year. Along with the 2nd and 28th picks (acquired from Houston for Lou Williams at the trade deadline), the Lakers own three picks in the first round of this draft.
This is mainly a salary dump of Mozgov’s atrocious contract along with another asset to offer the Pacers for George. But Indiana also wants the best value for him, wanting the 2nd overall pick, widely assumed to be used on UCLA guard, Lonzo Ball, thrown into the package. Conversely, the Lakers think Ball is the next Jason Kidd, and with Magic Johnson now at the helm of their front office, they want someone of his talent to bring back Showtime with Paul George on board, too.
So the question is: who bends first? Do the Pacers accept the Lakers low-ball offer (terrible pun, I know), knowing that George will leave next summer in free agency? Or will the Lakers give away more of the farm, sending more of their young players and that precious number two pick into the deal? It’s one of the NBA’s worst kept secret that he wants to play in LA, but can the Lakers risk him being fickle and changing his mind before then?
Better yet, what if their nemesis, the Celtics, pull off a deal instead? General Manager Danny Ainge has been hoarding a plethora of draft picks ever since they traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets four years ago, and after their shellacking to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, they are a player of George’s caliber (or maybe two, since they are inquiring about the Bulls Jimmy Butler and Utah’s Gordon Hayward as well) away from dethroning Cleveland for Eastern Conference supremacy. But do they risk only having him as a one-year rental (a la Dwight Howard with the Lakers before joining the Rockets)? Danny Ainge is bold, but he would need more confirmation of George staying long-term before they pull the trigger on him.
Speaking of those Cavaliers, they are just as adamant on obtaining George’s talents. After being humbled by the Warriors in the Finals, they are looking to upgrade their roster to match the juggernaut out west. However, unlike the Lakers and Celtics, Cleveland is chained by the luxury tax, bolstering the most expensive roster in the league. (Oh, and they also don’t have a GM right now.) Sure, they could try and swing a 3-team trade involving Kevin Love (who has played well for them, especially during last year’s title run). But with their front office in limbo along with limited roster flexibility and trade assets, it’ll be tough to pull off. Even though LeBron is still considered by many to be the best basketball player in the world, his championship window, and in conjunction the Cavaliers, is closing more and more after every long playoff run. If they cannot obtain George, they will do everything in their power to catch up to Golden State through other avenues.
With so many teams gauging the market for their own players along with opposing teams, we could be in store for some massive changes across the NBA landscape by tomorrow, and even more so once free agency begins on July 1st. (To put this in context, Dwight Howard was traded to his third team in as many seasons and it barely made the top headlines.)
But it all starts with Paul George. Between the trade and free agency rumors surrounding Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and now even DeAndre Jordan, he is the one that dictates the next moves when he changes teams. It’s just a matter of when, not if. And when he does, the real fun will begin.
Stay tuned, everyone.