Any good negotiation always starts with leverage. The Indiana Pacers lost a huge bargaining chip over Paul George when George failed to make one of the three All-NBA teams.
George might not be one of the six best forwards but he is certainly one of the best 15 players in the league. Any team that trades for him would immediately become a playoff contender, and if the right team trades for him they could become a championship contender.
Right now, Indiana has George under contract for another season, which gives them another year to prove they can be good enough to compete with George. Indiana clearly underperformed last season, but outside of LeBron James the Eastern conference is weak.
George is the second or third best player in the Eastern Conference. There is a path where Indiana brings back the same roster as last season, with some minor tweaks, and manages to win 45 to 47 games, gets a top four seed, and makes the Eastern Conference finals.
Indiana could also snag a top free agent like Gordon Hayward, or trade for someone like LaMarcus Aldridge to improve the roster.
Indiana also has the benefit that Paul George could still make an All-NBA team next season, which would unlock a $210 million offer. The offer would be $75-80 million more than any other team could offer George, which would be hard for George to turn down.
There is a strong trade market for George among teams who are in contention and have good assets.
The Boston Celtics are closer to being in contention for an NBA title than Indiana. If Boston manages to add Gordon Hayward in free agency and Paul George through a trade, let’s say involving two picks (including #1 overall) and someone like Jae Crowder, Boston could be good enough to beat Cleveland.
The starting fives for both teams would be:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: J.R. Smith
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kevin Love
C: Tristan Thompson
PG: Isiah Thomas
SG: Avery Bradley
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Paul George
C: Al Horford
Boston would have four All-Stars in their starting lineup (if you include Horford) to Cleveland’s three. The question would remain, are four All-Stars enough to bridge the gap between LeBron James, one of the three greatest players of all time, and Boston’s best player?
Another team in this mix is the Los Angeles Lakers. Every Indiana Pacers fan is worried that after next season Paul George will jump ship for Los Angeles. However, Los Angeles has not been competitive in six seasons. New President Magic Johnson is under immense pressure to lure a big name free agent like George.
If Indiana’s new President Kevin Pritchard is smart and open to trading George, he’ll bid Boston and Los Angeles against each other. Both teams have assets that include their picks and young talented players.
Pritchard should try to secure a decent offer from Boston first and then use it to push Johnson into a better offer for George. Then go back to Boston with Los Angeles and so on until he has a deal he thinks is fair.
Indiana should look to package George with one of their bad contracts, like Monta Ellis or Al Jefferson. In return Los Angeles’ best offer could include their #2 overall pick and Brandon Ingram Boston’s best offer could include their #1 overall pick, Jae Crowder, and Jaylen Brown.
Both offers give Indiana enough assets in return to please the fan base, while both Boston and Los Angeles keep enough players to remain competitive.