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The Los Angeles Lakers have a big decision to make in the NBA’s latest superstar race.
On Sunday, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Paul George told the Pacers he intends to become a free agent in 2018 and leave the team, preferably for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The move doesn’t come as a surprise, as it’s been rumored for months that George would like to play either for a contender or his hometown Lakers. USA Today’s Sam Amick reported in February that George is “hell-bent” to get to the Lakers.
However, the news also puts the Pacers on the clock – trade George now and get something in return or risk getting nothing when he becomes a free agent following the 2017-18 season.
The Pacers have reportedly already begun working the phones.
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported that the Pacers reached out to the Cavaliers to discuss a trade. It’s unclear what the parameters of any trade would be, but presumably, it would mean the Cavs would trade one of Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving to land George, who would give the Cavs a better chance to contend with the Warriors.
While McMenamin reports that it would be “hard” for the Cavs to deal anything significant for a one-year rental of George, the Cavs also believe that the one year of championship contention could be enough to convince George to re-sign with them in 2018.
All of this puts the Lakers in a similar situation to what the New York Knicks faced with Carmelo Anthony in 2010-11.
It was known that Anthony was going to leave the Denver Nuggets in free agency. However, with the uncertainty of the NBA lockout looming that offseason, Anthony wanted a contract extension and trade mid-year. The Knicks knew they were Anthony’s preferred destination, but the threat of Anthony accepting a deal and extension to another team forced them to give up a core of young players and role players plus a first-round pick, robbing them of needed depth.
The Lakers are reportedly wary of trading too many of their assets – like D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle – for George. This makes sense if they know they’re the favorites to land George in one year.
However, similar to the Knicks, the Lakers also face outside threats. What if the Cavs or Celtics swing a trade for George and he enjoys the winning culture and decides to re-sign there? The Lakers have no sure-fire superstars on the roster and have struggled in recent years to attract any stars to sign with them. Additionally, after years of avoiding giving up a first-round pick to the 76ers, the Lakers’ tanking charade is finally over – their 2018 pick is unprotected and will go the Sixers, meaning there is no incentive for the Lakers to be bad during the 2017-18 season.
It’s not an easy situation for the Lakers’ new front office to navigate: trade assets for George now and give up the means to build a foundation around him, or wait on a trade and risk losing a star who wants to play there to another team.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported that the Pacers will likely move quickly on a trade for George, so the Lakers don’t have much time to figure it out.