Indiana Pacers forward Paul George has informed the team he plans to leave the franchise next summer in free agency, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports:
All-Star forward Paul George has informed the Indiana Pacers that he plans to become a free agent in the summer of 2018 and will leave the franchise – preferably for the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources told The Vertical.
George hasn’t requested a trade before he can opt out of his 2018-19 contract, but did have his agent, Aaron Mintz, tell new Indiana president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard that he wanted to be forthright on his plans and spare the franchise any confusion about his intentions, league sources told The Vertical.
George can sign a four-year deal worth as much as $130 million with Los Angeles next year. George is a Southern California native and playing for the Lakers would represent a homecoming for him.
George plans to play out the 2017-18 season with Indiana, but wants to give the organization the chance to plan appropriately for its future – which George told the team won’t include him, league sources said.
George has long been interested in playing for the Lakers, a team in the midst of a rebuilding phase. He grew up idolizing multiple California teams — the Clippers, Lakers and Warriors — but more specifically, he grew up idolizing Lakers star Kobe Bryant. George fantasized a time where he would one day don a purple and gold jersey, just like Bryant did for over 20 seasons.
The ball is now in the court of Lakers president Magic Johnson to make it happen.
League tampering rules prevent Johnson from directly speaking on the matter, but it’s no secret: Johnson and the Lakers want George, and George wants Johnson and the Lakers.
In order to sign George, assuming he remains interested in joining the team a year from now, the Lakers must clear one major contract off the books — likely one of Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng or Jordan Clarkson — as they will not have enough cap space to sign him outright.
Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard and staff will almost surely look to trade George this offseason, a potential deal that could include the Lakers on the other end of an agreement. The complicated tidbit in this situation lies here: Many assume Los Angeles won’t dare to trade for George now, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
It makes sense; why trade assets for a player who you can just sign to a contract next summer? The answer is, and, as both Wojnarowski and league observers cautioned, George may not have the same level of interest in the Lakers one year from now as he does in the present day. A championship contender like Cleveland or Boston could swoop in and take a risk, then potentially convince George to stay after a year, as well.
Regardless, any trade between the Lakers and Pacers would likely result in Indiana obtaining an underwhelming package in exchange for George. Indiana is in a considerably tougher situation now with today’s news reaching the media. Any leverage they may have had in trade discussions has dissipated, leaving the rest of the league in the dark on where they go from here.
For now, Paul George remains a member of the Indiana Pacers, though his commitment appears to be running on borrowed time.