Paul George has gone on record and said he wants to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, so why would they execute a trade for him?
There are a ton of conflicting viewpoints centered around this deal. First, George has been on-the-fence about his future with the Pacers; he wants to stay if they build a contender, but has also said he intends to play with his hometown Lakers next year. Even though everyone knows George is already fixated on going out West, Magic Johnson seems a bit antsy. I already touched on how he feels about the core, and his head coach, Luke Walton, feels a bit differently about blowing up the young group.
Walton went on “The Full 48” podcast and spoke about how he doesn’t think the Lakers should trade the farm for a single star since it’s going to take more than that to beat the Golden State Warriors. George, by himself, clearly isn’t enough.
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According to Lakers’ brass, Brandon Ingram is the only untouchable. That means D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and anyone else is fair game when it comes to forming a package. There’s nothing wrong with any of Los Angeles’ young guys; Russell has had two solid years as a playmaker, and the same is true with Clarkson, who’s just one year more experienced than DLo. Randle, however, has the most upside of the three. His versatility came in flashes last year and pidgeon-holding him to rebounding, and being a low-post player isn’t right.
There’s a passing skill that has yet to be unleashed, and Randle would be a very enticing prospect if offered to the right team. As far as Ingram, the Lakers must feel he’s got the most potential. That may be true. He hasn’t yet figured himself out. Toward the end of last year, however, things began to click, and Ingram is now in the position to become a solid stretch-four in coming seasons. Conveniently, that’ll leave the small forward spot open.
George has spent 70 percent of his career minutes at small forward, according to Basketball Reference. He’s done battle with the league’s best and has held his own. This is the same guy who had one of the most gruesome injuries I’ve ever seen, and it was a question of whether or not he’d be able to return to the same form after his leg snapped. George did — and he improved. In 75 games, the All-Star averaged 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals while boasting a true shooting percentage of 58.6 percent. In the postseason, George rose to an entirely different level.
Despite the Pacers getting swept by the Cavaliers, he put up 28.0 points, 8.8 dimes and 7.0 assists in the four games. Additionally, his true shooting clip was 55.3 percent. His accuracy from three (42.9) really saved him because he made just 34.8 percent of his twos. It’s also important to note that George had to guard LeBron James on the other end. He didn’t stop James, but he did everything he could.
Sometimes, it seems like we don’t appreciate George. He’s a premier player on both ends of the floor, and that’s why the Lakers want him. Often, he’s mentioned alongside Jimmy Butler and Gordon Hayward. Those three are going to occupy headlines all summer long and rightfully so. Butler has separated himself from the other two, but I don’t think any team would be upset if they missed on Jimmy and got George or Hayward.
The Lakers are bypassing the other two. They want Paul George. ESPN’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne reported that talks are going on between Indiana and Los Angeles, but they’re unsure if a deal with be worked out by Thursday’s draft.
Given normal circumstances, I don’t believe that you should trade your assets for a player who’s going to come to you anyway. The NBA offseason is far from normal. Say the Lakers don’t make this deal and sign him next summer. They’re not beating the Warriors, but George would be paired alongside their growing core. Should the young guys continue to improve, it’ll only help their trade value, and then Magic can get creative with bringing on a second superstar because their cap would be all kinds of messy.
Randle and Clarkson look like the two the Lakers would deal. Now, imagine one of them had a breakout year, and that enabled Magic to hold onto the other. Would you okay with trading for a high draft pick and Randle if he averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists? It’s not a decision that should be rushed, but it’s worth entertaining. That means Clarkson would stay in Los Angeles. Holding onto someone that would be thrown into a deal this summer could pay dividends in the long run — and yes, I know that it could also turn out horribly. But that’s the price that comes with any transaction.
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The Vertical’s Bobby Marks noted that the Lakers would not be able to sign George outright to a max contract next season. He went on talking about how they’ll need to do something with their egregiously big contracts to make room, and, if I had to guess, that’s why they aren’t waiting around. Now might be their only chance. If they miss it, it’ll be more years of bad basketball. Indiana’s phones are going to be ringing all summer with offers for George, and they aren’t to consult Magic on any of them unless he’s the one calling. Cleveland is reportedly in the mix as well.
Let’s say that George got comfortable with a team like Cleveland or Boston that was willing to make a deal. Do you think that he’d want to go from a Finals run to potentially not making the playoffs? Anything’s possible, but I don’t see it happening. I also didn’t see Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State last summer, but that came after years of being at the top but unable to break through.
Another reason the Lakers wouldn’t pull the trigger is if the Pacers were insistent on getting their second overall pick. That, like Ingram, is untouchable. Los Angeles’ 28th selection would be the one included, but, of course, this paragraph is irrelevant beyond Thursday.
Magic’s ultimate goal is to build a contender. He needs star players to do that. He needs to trade for Paul George to do that. That exchange opens up the door for others to follow in George’s footsteps because he’d create more cap flexibility. If LeBron (or someone else) were to move out West, it would be much harder for the Lakers to be a destination if they signed George. Trading for him means they inherit his Bird Rights, and Los Angeles could offer much more once he hits free agency. However, that’s the case with any team if George is dealt.
It seems easy enough for the Lakers to sit back and wait for Paul George to fall in their lap. That’s possible, but too many variables are involved, and it’s a risk that’s not worth taking. Regardless of what happens, George is making his way to Hollywood in 2018. How he gets there, though, is going to impact the future of the Lakers.
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