The Woj bomb of the day indicates that Paul George will be leaving the Indiana Pacers as a free agent next summer unless they trade him now. As we did with Kevin Love, here is literally every George trade that makes sense.
Even with a shorter contract, George has more trade value than Love by a decent margin. His team probably has less interest in the sort of win-now pieces that made sense for Cleveland. Combined, that’s going to eliminate more teams on the basis of assets. Brooklyn, Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Washington, Houston, the Clippers, Memphis, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Utah are all out of the running because they can’t make trades that do enough for the Pacers.
Atlanta, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Sacramento are eliminated as well. George would have no interest in re-signing there (though Philadelphia came very close to making the cut). Golden State is out for obvious reasons. That leaves 10 teams that make some degree of sense in a Paul George trade. Here they are, ranked in order of likelihood.
10. Dallas Mavericks Receive Paul George. Indiana Pacers Receive No. 9 Overall Pick, Richaun Holmes and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot. Philadelphia 76ers Receive Harrison Barnes and Al Jefferson.
This one is extremely unlikely for several reasons. Dallas is smart, they recognize that the odds of George re-signing next year are low. And even if he did, how much better is he than Harrison Barnes was last year? The No. 9 Pick is a lot to give up to make that upgrade. The big winners here are the Sixers. They nab Harrison Barnes for two redundant youngsters. Never rule out players falling in love with Dallas, as their team culture is widely respected league-wide. But this one probably isn’t happening no matter how much fun it would be to give Dirk Nowitzki one last ride with another star teammate.
9. New York Knicks Receive Paul George and Iman Shumpert. Indiana Pacers Receive No. 8 Overall Pick, Willy Hernangómez, Lance Thomas, Channing Frye, New York’s Top-7 Protected 2019 1st Round Pick (Top-5 Protected 2020, Unprotected 2021) and Cleveland’s Top-5 Protected 2021 1st Round Pick (Unprotected 2022). Cleveland Cavaliers Receive Courtney Lee.
If you put Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porziņģis on the floor together you could really have something. But after the public relations Hindenburg that has been the Carmelo Anthony saga, the Knicks have to know George wouldn’t consider staying. Cleveland is the big winner here. They contribute a first round pick to New York’s cause for the right to save major luxury tax money and acquire a perfect shooting guard for a potential Finals rematch with the Warriors.
8. Milwaukee Bucks Receive Paul George and Al Jefferson. Indiana Pacers Receive No. 17 Overall Pick, Jabari Parker, John Henson, Spencer Hawes’ Expiring Contract and Milwaukee’s Top-7 Protected 2019 1st Round Pick (Unprotected 2020).
Milwaukee is a team Paul George should be seriously considering. How on Earth would anyone score whilst attempting to navigate through the jungle of arms George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Thon Maker create? It accelerates Milwaukee’s timeline a bit, but Giannis is ready for the spotlight. Plus with Maker and Malcolm Brogdon still young, they’d have plenty of room for improvement. But someone who wants to play for the Lakers probably doesn’t view Milwaukee as an acceptable market. So sadly, the Bucks are fighting long odds.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves Receive Paul George. Indiana Pacers Receive No. 7 Overall Pick, Zach LaVine, Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill.
Minnesota is in the same boat as Milwaukee here, but with a caveat: this deal would get them Paul George… and allow them to retain max cap space. Chris Paul anyone? If George and Paul want to win a championship, Minnesota offers them a better chance than just about anyone. When they get older, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns will be in their prime. There doesn’t have to be an age-related drop off. It would be extremely difficult for a small market team like Minnesota to pay up to keep that team together, but there would only be two seasons (2020-21 and 2021-22) in which they’d be paying max money to all four. Giving them the proper support is where that financial difficulty comes in, but in basketball terms, oh my God.
6. Denver Nuggets Receive Paul George. Indiana Pacers Receive No. 13 Overall Pick, Gary Harris, Juan Hernangómez and Kenneth Faried.
If you haven’t heard of Gary Harris, you will soon. He averaged 17 points on 54/44/79 shooting splits in the second half of his season and is quietly becoming a very good defender. He’s not a franchise player, but he’s good enough to be the centerpiece of this sort of trade. Like Minnesota, Denver has the advantage of retaining max cap space after a George trade if it’s structured like the one I presented above. If Jamal Murray becomes the player we expect, a foursome of him, Nikola Jokić, Paul George and Paul Millsap could at the very least be a top-4 seed in the West. And potentially, even compete with the Warriors.
The Nuggets have sniffed around big swings like this in the past, most notably with Blake Griffin and, well, George. They’re ready to take the next step as a franchise. Their biggest concern would be keeping George long-term, and there’s virtually no guarantee he’d be willing to stay. But the Nuggets aren’t as risk-averse as other teams and would probably be willing to take that chance whereas Minnesota and Milwaukee wouldn’t.
5. Miami Heat Receive Paul George. Indiana Pacers Receive No. 14 Overall Pick, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, Josh McRoberts, Rodney McGruder, and Miami’s Unprotected 2023 1st Round Pick.
Never, ever, EVER rule out Miami when they are pursuing a superstar. They got a meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015 without having the means to create cap space for him. They got a meeting with Kevin Durant despite not having the space to bring back Dwyane Wade after signing him. It is really hard to say no to Pat Riley when he drops his rings on the table.
This is a volume offer more than a top-heavy one, and the Pacers would only accept it if nobody else steps up and they’re determined not to send him to the Lakers or Cavs. But you can do worse than two valuable first round picks and four good young players.
4. Portland Trail Blazers Receive Paul George. Indiana Pacers Receive No. 15 Overall Pick, No. 20 Overall Pick, No. 26 Overall Pick, Portland’s Unprotected 2019 1st Round Pick, Portland’s Unprotected 2021 1st Round Pick, Festus Ezeli and Mo Harkless.
If Indiana wants a volume offer though, Portland has the best one. They have three first round picks this year and, with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum locked up, enough faith that they’re going to be at least decent for awhile to offer up two future firsts without protections. They don’t have anything resembling a young star to offer the Pacers unless they put McCollum on the table. If they want to get Paul George, which is realistically their only path to contention with this core, they have to throw so many picks at the Pacers that quality no longer matters. It’s an enormous risk, but players seem to love Portland and the Blazers would be arguably Golden State’s biggest threat in the West. It’s hard to leave a team that makes the Western Conference Finals.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers Receive Paul George. Orlando Magic Receive Kevin Love. Indiana Pacers Receive Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, Nikola Vučević, Orlando’s Top-5 Protected 2018 1st Round Pick (Top-3 Protected 2019, Unprotected 2020) and Cleveland’s Unprotected 2021 1st Round Pick.
Any team mentioned in the piece I wrote about Kevin Love trades would make sense as a facilitator here. Yes, Cleveland could offer Love to the Pacers themselves, but they’d probably prefer a package of younger players. That’s where Orlando comes in. They grab Love as their franchise cornerstone without surrendering their very valuable No. 6 pick in this year’s draft.
That player would be another cornerstone, but even with those two pieces added the Magic are likely still a lottery team next year. That gives Indiana a valuable pick next year along with one that could be very high from Cleveland in the post-LeBron era. This deal ultimately depends on how high they are on Aaron Gordon. But if the Magic aren’t a fit, some other team would be. Someone would give up young players for Kevin Love, and that’s the third team in this sort of trade.
2. Celtics Receive Paul George. Memphis Grizzlies Receive Avery Bradley. Indiana Pacers Receive No. 3 Overall Pick, Marcus Smart, Wade Baldwin IV, Brandan Wright’s Expiring Contract, the Clippers’ Lottery Protected 2019 1st Round Pick (Lottery Protected 2020, Becomes Two Second Round Picks If Not Conveyed by Then) and Memphis’ Top-5 Protected 2023 1st Round Pick (Unprotected 2024).
If Boston is truly dedicated to trading for Paul George, then they are going to get Paul George. No team can outbid them in terms of raw assets. They’d need a third team to take on Avery Bradley’s salary and send assets to the Pacers for him (I used Memphis, but trust me, half of the league would give up something valuable for even a one-year Bradley rental), and salary cap order of operations dictate that this trade would have to happen after Boston spends their cap space for it to make sense.
But Boston would rather have two years of control on Jimmy Butler than one on Paul George, especially since that extra year of control will be so much cheaper. The Celtics are paying Al Horford the max, presumably they’re going to sign someone else to a max deal this offseason and Isaiah Thomas will join them next year. The difference between the $20 million or so Butler will make in 2018-19 and the $30-plus million George will is extremely important from a luxury tax perspective.
There are dozens of different versions of this trade. The Celtics would rather give up Jaylen Brown than the No. 3 Overall Pick, and might have the leverage to make that possible. Maybe Jae Crowder is the salary flotsam that is jettisoned instead of Bradley. Maybe Boston gives up their future Memphis pick instead of their future Clippers’ pick. The Celtics have so many assets right now that predicting which ones will be traded is impossible. But ultimately, Jimmy Butler appears to be the target. So George will likely end up elsewhere.
1. Lakers Receive Paul George. Pacers Receive D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Corey Brewer’s Expiring Contract and the Lakers’ Unprotected 2020 1st Round Pick.
The Lakers loom as an enormous favorite to land George whether they trade for him now or sign him next summer. In a sense, they’re playing a game of chicken with George. If they sign him outright next summer, they don’t have to give anything up to get him. But if they don’t trade for him now, he might like his new destination enough to stay, leaving them out in the cold.
The likeliest outcome is the Lakers finding a middle ground. They’ll offer up some of their lesser assets for George to ensure that they get him, but don’t have to sacrifice their two biggest prizes—Brandon Ingram and the No. 2 Overall Pick this year—in doing so. Indiana will ask for those two pieces, and the compromise when they don’t get either will be the inclusion of a 2020 pick that the Lakers need far more desperately than it seems. If they want to sign a second star to pair with George and their youngsters next year, they’ll have to dump Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng to create the cap space. They’ll have to attach picks to get rid of those contracts. And without the 2020 pick, that becomes much harder.
But if they want to keep Ingram and (probably) Lonzo Ball, it’s a sacrifice they’ll need to make to get Paul George. I would place the odds of George winding up as a Laker somewhere near 50 percent, with every other team on this list fighting for the remaining percentage points. It would take a big upset to keep Paul George off of the Lakers. Let’s see if anyone can make it happen.