The Indiana Pacers offseason began on Sunday April 23, 2017 following a Game 4 106-102 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers were never really in contention for the title this season, the front office was in contention for the commitment of franchise player Paul George in anticipation of his summer 2018 free agency. Instilling confidence in George for him to stay was the Pacers’ not-so-secret primary goal this season, as midseason trade talks blustered about only to fall as flat as George’s potentially game tying three in Game 4.
Now, as the remaining contenders scrap towards the second round of the playoffs, the Pacers are all consumed with the leverage, or lack thereof, they have over George’s future. Whether Indy can offer PG a $200 million deal assuming an All-NBA selection could come into play, though rumors imply that George has intentions to join his hometown Lakers. As the clock bears down on President Larry Bird and the Pacers’ the opportunity to maximize returns for George are thinning by the day considering the likelihood George walks away for free come 2018.
Following the failed blockbuster trade probed by the Denver Nuggets in February 2017, it could happen that Denver is the prime option for Paul George’s future success and Indiana’s optimal returns. Despite George’s claims, according to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, that the Spurs and Warriors block any chance for a finals appearance should he end up out west, the burgeoning Lakers are not yet of contending caliber, with or without George’s help. At the very least, testing the waters for one year in Denver for George could give him better perspective on where to head before unrestricted free agency.
(The efficacy of this trade is based in part on data from ESPN’s Trade Machine)
On the cusp of a playoff berth this season the Denver Nuggets revved into high gear too late in 2017, further compounded by giving up tiebreaking contests to their rival Portland Trailblazers. Nikola Jokic was the Nuggets undisputed highlight of the year, earning 5 triple doubles and averaging career highs nearly across the board. Jokic’s court vision from his near seven-foot perch was instrumental in doubling his career assist averages and opened the floor for shooter-slasher combos like Will Barton and Gary Harris. For Denver, orchestrating a deal to send off Gallinari and Mudiay would be ideal, pairing the growing Jokic with a consistent wing player in George. Over the past 4 seasons in Denver Gallinari has missed at least 19 games from injury while entirely missing 2013-14. And while the Italian forward is a solid contributor when he’s on the floor, putting up about 18 per game, his play has not been the same catalyst for growth as the second year big man’s. Additionally, Gallo has a player option for the upcoming season and as the Nuggets’ leading scorer any return for Denver could be a plus.
For Paul George, he’d be joining a veteran point guard in Jameer Nelson who could run a capable, postseason offense alongside Jokic and George, considering his age (35) and the Nuggets’ reliance on him throughout the season (Nelson played in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th most used 5-man combos in Denver, replacing Mudiay in each). This combo might not lead to that elusive championship appearance that George is seeking in the Warriors Era but it would be a marked improvement over the marginally successful Indy.
In return, Indiana (along with the capable training staff that rehabilitated Paul George following the devastating US basketball injury) could hope to keep Gallinari on the court for at least 70 games while bolstering their point guard position with Emmanuel Mudiay. Jeff Teague’s unrestricted free agency might spell the end of his yearlong era in Indy, though the Indianapolis native expressed his interest in staying. In the event Teague (and CJ Miles for that matter) bolts during the offseason Mudiay could find himself in the care of a more experience squad than he had in Denver, ushering in his continued growth similar to Hawks Dennis Schröder.
Ultimately, the future looks grim for the Pacers. The potential to sink into lottery territory is fast approaching, as George gazes into his crystal ball to determine his next move. While PG has to consider how a new team would have to gut their roster to make him fit and still contend, the Pacers’ are hoping for a miracle, be it through the development of Myles Turner into a franchise player or the emergence of a capable role player to entice PG13 back to the Fieldhouse.
How wrong was I? Let me know @bjtripleot on Twitter.