Where will Paul George end up? Insiders Nate Taylor and Clifton Brown discuss what the Pacers can get for Paul George.
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Pacers fans have waited and endured — through the news of Paul George’s intentions, through the short-lived drama on draft night and through the “gut punch” team president Kevin Pritchard described to voice the sentiment inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The future, in terms the Pacers’ trajectory, seems clear: They’re headed for a rebuild. Yet, how the Pacers begin such a future remains uncertain. George is still on the roster 12 days after letting the NBA know that he doesn’t intend to re-sign with the Pacers and intends to become a Los Angeles Laker as a free agent next summer. Pritchard has preached patience to Pacers fans.
When the NBA’s free agency period begins at midnight Saturday — and it essentially started this past week once star players began talking to one another — George or Pritchard might not be the biggest factor in where the Pacers will trade one of the most talented players in franchise history.
The player who might hold the key to the where George is traded is Gordon Hayward, the once underrated, underrecruited prospect from Brownsburg. Fans in Indiana will always remember him. He was a late bloomer who took Butler to the NCAA championship game and continued to prove doubters foolish in a Utah Jazz uniform.
Now, Pacers fans might want to start rooting for Hayward to be reunited with his former college coach, Brad Stevens. Indiana fans also know Stevens was the first Division I coach in the state to believe in Hayward. Stevens is, of course, now the coach of the Boston Celtics, the team that appears to have the most assets available to the Pacers in a trade for George.
Hayward also has matured into an All-Star, a dynamic scorer and prized commodity in the NBA after seven seasons in Utah. The Celtics, perhaps ready to fully compete against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for a spot in the NBA Finals, need a mature star player — or two — to help complete their roster maturation. Hayward and George in Celtics uniforms could benefit the Pacers’ future.
As an unrestricted free agent, Hayward is scheduled to meet with the Celtics on Sunday, according to multiple media reports. The Celtics, who had a better season than the Jazz, can offer Hayward a near-max contract. If Hayward agrees to sign with Boston, the Celtics could then be willing to exchange some of their best assets, young rotational players and future draft picks, to acquire George in trade. Such a possibility was first reported Wednesday by Yahoo’s “The Vertical.”
To make such a deal work, Pritchard could require Boston’s best asset: the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick next year. The Nets, who are again expected to be one of the worst teams in the league, could have another top-five selection when the draft lottery occurs next May. With possession of Brooklyn’s pick and their own from a rebuilding season, the Pacers would increase their chances of building their roster with two top prospects in next year’s draft.
In order to make the contracts work, Boston could send a combination of young rotational players such as Tyler Zeller, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown or rookie Jayson Tatum. George will make $19.3 million next season. “The Vertical” also reported that the Celtics have a growing confidence they could sign George to a contract extension, which is leading the team’s willingness to trade a significant package of assets to the Pacers.
If Pritchard can acquire Brooklyn’s pick, Zeller, Crowder and either Brown or Tatum — and it’s absolutely a big if — Pacers fans should rejoice.
Pacers President Kevin Pritchard speaks about the future of player Paul George, and the team’s haul during the NBA draft, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Thursday, June 22, 2017. (Robert Scheer/IndyStar)
A league source, according to The Boston Herald, said the Celtics are waiting to hear from Pritchard again after he asked this past week to receive next year’s Nets’ and Lakers’ first-round picks, both possessed by the Celtics. Pritchard, according to the source, also wants starting-caliber players in a deal with Boston. The Celtics own additional first round picks, as well.
Pritchard wants to receive the most compensation possible in exchange for George since he was told in a phone call from Aaron Mintz, George’s agent, that the Pacers were, in essence, losing their best player this summer. George’s trade value appeared rather limited with the understanding that he’s likely to only spend one season with his new team since he wants to play for the Lakers. But perhaps Boston is persuaded into aggressively pursuing George once Hayward agrees to join the team, with the intentions of convincing him to remain with the Celtics.
“We’re not going to make a bad deal,” Pritchard said last week after the draft. “We want to get what we want and that’s what we pursue.”
Boston appears to have the most of what Pritchard wants to complete a trade. But for the Celtics to pursue George with their best offer, Hayward likely needs to have agreed to a deal to come to Boston.
The team that sends away the best player in a blockbuster trade usually only win such a deal because it has enough leverage, patience and perhaps unforeseen circumstances play to its advantage.
Pacers fans will need to be at their most optimistic to hope such a scenario plays out in trading George. They need to root for Pritchard to stay patient throughout the first few days of free agency as Hayward decides his future. They then need to root for Hayward to pick Boston over Utah, Miami and any other dark horse team willing to sign him.
And then, and only then, can Pacers fans root that Pritchard actually gets what he wants.
Call IndyStar reporter Nate Taylor at (317) 444-6484. Follow him on Twitter: @ByNateTaylor.
Paul George has been with the Indiana Pacers for seven seasons. Here are his honors and averages
Download our Pacers app to stay updated: http://bit.ly/1BR4fDs