Lopez’s pending free agency and the Lakers’ known interest in using every cent of their cap space to lure LeBron James and Paul George next summer has made Lopez something of an afterthought compared to the buzz around Ball and factors beyond this season. “I’ve definitely noticed it,” Lopez said. “There’s lots of reasons obviously for that excitement, no question. But I’m a super unassuming guy myself, so I’m all right with that.”
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“We’ll see,” he continued, addressing the idea of joining the Lakers next season. “I’m a Thunder, and my job is to give them the best I have this year and see what happens after that.”
“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.” The only difference between what teams usually do and this is that a complaint was filed, and the league must investigate. It’s possible that Magic slipped somewhere with an incriminating text or email. After all, he even went on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and joked about tampering.
Tampering is hard, if not impossible to prove. “If there’s a paper trail, then it’ll be a thing,” said one league executive, adding he doubts there were any distinct emails or texts that implicate Magic. “No paper trail, no problem.”
Paul George: FWIW: I’ve interviewed PG 100s of times & he’s never said he was a Lakers fan. Grew up a Clippers fan; that’s where he wanted to be drafted
Scott Agness: Paul George, in @SI_LeeJenkins’ latest piece,says he was “mentally drained” last yr by free-agent speculation. “Game 60 felt like Game 100”
It seems open and shut from the outside, that the Thunder are renting George for a season and will be reduced to watching another star player leave them. But people connected to George push back against the narrative, suggesting the picture is not as clear as some think it is. A source close to George with direct knowledge into his thinking put it this way: “Everything is on the table with Paul, and anything is possible.”
George is “really excited” to join the Thunder and Westbrook, according to the source, and views this season as an open-ended opportunity. Because when it comes down to whatever George decides next summer, the source said, “Winning is his top priority.”
The Thunder made the deal with that knowledge in mind, believing they could sell George on their winning culture, a player they feel fits perfectly into it. They aren’t covering their ears with all the Lakers noise. They are well aware. It is entirely understood from both sides, according to sources, that George is entering his time in Oklahoma City without a commitment to the team’s future — but also with an open mind to potentially be a part of it.
Paul George: “For me, it’s all about winning. I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning. I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
George will get four eyefuls this season of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and the young Lakers. Superficial measurements will matter far less than max slots and won-loss records. “It’s too early for L.A.,” he says. “It would have to be a situation where the ball gets rolling and guys are hopping on. This guy commits, that guy commits. ‘Oh s—, now there’s a team forming.’ It has to be like that.” But the same is true for virtually every locale outside of Oakland. “I’m in OKC, so hopefully me and Russ do a good enough job and make it to the conference finals and love the situation, why not recruit someone to come build it with us? I’m open in this whole process.”
Miller said George has a “love affair” with the L.A. life, but the man who was No. 58 on Forbes’ list of world’s highest paid athletes for 2017 still voluntarily finds his way to anti-Hollywood. George is the ringleader of the pickup games, which include the 5-foot-7 Miller. “It’s on him,” Miller said about George pulling together the games. “He’ll pass on the word from there.” “Our gym is always going to kind of be a special place for kids in our program they enjoy coming back and reliving those memories,” said Tom Hegre, George’s high school coach. “Where you grow up is where you have memories.”
“If they can put something together in Oklahoma where they can win, will that mean L.A.’s completely out of play in free agency? No. L.A.’s always in play,” Granger said. “But it’ll be something he’ll have to consider if the Thunder can compete for a championship next year.”
Q: Can the Thunder extend George’s contract? A: Technically, yes. In reality, no. The Thunder doesn’t have the cap space necessary to renegotiate and extend George’s deal. That would require nearly $10 million in cap space to bring his salary to his max. Don’t expect Oklahoma City to gut pieces of the team just to do this. It wants to build a team with depth. Without that option, George would have to opt into his 2018-19 year in order to extend his contract. That calls for him to earn $20.7 million, which is way below his market value. A hypothetical extension would be based off that amount, not automatically ratcheted up to his max salary.
It’s always possible that George locks long-term next season wherever he goes. But if he wants to potentially maximize his earnings, he’ll need to take a shorter deal so he can re-enter free agency as a 10-year veteran. In that case, he could seek a two-year deal with a player option for a third season. That’d essentially pay him an estimated $63.6 million in Oklahoma City or $62.7 million elsewhere. So much for that advantage.
Given what else was out there, this is a disappointing return for Indiana and new president Kevin Pritchard, even with the Pacers negotiating from a position of weakness. Every team, even George’s suitors in Boston and Cleveland, thinks there is at least a 75 percent chance George stays true to his L.A. plans. The Lakers certainly think that. It is unclear if they even engaged the Pacers Friday night. They didn’t yield on either Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball, and if they are sure George is heading their way, they were right not to. The Pacers do not appear to have been interested in D’Angelo Russell. Time will tell on the L.A. front.
While the 32-year-old Young hopes to maximize his earnings on a multi-year contract for a playoff team, the Lakers want to sign players to one-year deals to save cap space for the 2018 offseason when LeBron James, Paul George and Russell Westbrook might be available.
According to people not authorized to speak publicly, George, a Palmdale native, is still telling friends that he intends to be a Laker in 2018. Because of that, he knows the Lakers have little incentive to trade for him now.
Although George’s feelings could change, especially if he is traded to a team he likes, the Lakers aren’t willing to part with too much to trade for him. Second-year forward Brandon Ingram, a favorite of the Lakers’ coaching staff, has caught Indiana’s eye, but is off limits. Without the help of a third team, the Lakers weren’t willing to part with the No. 2 overall pick before the draft — the pick they used to take former UCLA star Lonzo Ball.
George met with Pacers owner Herb Simon just before the February trade deadline, delivering a direct message that should have sparked a full-force effort to get him out of town: While he badly wanted to contend for a title with the Pacers, George told Simon at the time, he was likely headed for Laker Land if that prospect didn’t look attainable by the time his contract came to an end.
Even though Paul George remains the longest of shots, the Wizards haven’t given up pursuit, league sources tell CSNmidatlantic.com, though there’s a prevailing feeling that nothing will happen before free agency opens July 1.
What was your reaction when you first heard that Paul George wants to leave Indiana? Myles Turner: “The first thing I thought was, ‘Alright, well, what’s next?’ We have to start rebuilding and look at what we can do for our future. That was my initial thought. PG has to do what’s best for him and his family. He’s from L.A. so I feel like he’s always wanted to play with them. I think it was a childhood dream of his and you can’t take that personally. He’s been here in Indy for eight or nine years and done a great job here. If he wants to move onto other endeavors, you have to let him do what he wants to do. I don’t take it personally at all. He’s done great things here and I wish him all the best and good luck going forward.”
If Paul George does leave, you’re going to be the face of the franchise. Are you ready for that? Myles Turner: “Without a doubt. I’ve had two years of experience and I know that’s not a whole lot, but with [what I’ve done] in that little sample size, I feel like I’m ready to take on more. I want to become a leader – why not start early? I’m really looking forward to our future. I feel like with the right pieces, we can go young and build for the future. And I’m ready to lead this young movement.”
All-Star forward Paul George has informed the Indiana Pacers that he plans to become a free agent in the summer of 2018 and will leave the franchise – preferably for the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources told The Vertical.
George hasn’t requested a trade before he can opt out of his 2018-19 contract, but did have his agent, Aaron Mintz, tell new Indiana president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard that he wanted to be forthright on his plans and spare the franchise any confusion about his intentions, league sources told The Vertical. George can sign a four-year deal worth as much as $130 million with Los Angeles next year. George is a Southern California native and playing for the Lakers would represent a homecoming for him.
George plans to play out the 2017-18 season with Indiana, but wants to give the organization the chance to plan appropriately for its future – which George told the team won’t include him, league sources said.
You should buy stock in George heading to L.A. The vibe I’ve gotten from talking to NBA executives and agents over the past few weeks is that teams aren’t willing to sell the farm for George because of the possibility that he’ll sign with the Lakers is so strong. George is better than both Irving and Love — he’s a rare two-way superstar.
According to a person with knowledge of George’s thinking who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation, the money doesn’t matter nearly as much to him as most might assume. Yes, there’s a gap of more than $70 million between the five-year deal the Pacers could have given George and the four-year deal he could get from other teams in free agency next summer. And yes, the possibility still exists that – if George made an All-NBA team next season – the Pacers could still give him a supermax next offseason (or, of course, run the massive risk of losing him for nothing in free agency).
But after making it all the way back from his horrific leg break in the summer of 2014, and threatening to unseat the great LeBron James in those back-to-back Heat-Pacers conference finals, George finds himself more focused on legacy than ever. And whether it’s realistic or not, the 27-year-old who grew up idolizing Bryant in Palmdale, Calif. clearly believes he can lift the Lakers out of the darkness. The question now, it seems, is whether the Lakers will have the necessary patience and prudence on their end to make the most of their situation.
Why? Because this isn’t just about the money. It’s about winning. And if he can’t win at the highest level in Indiana, where the four-time All-Star has been since the Pacers drafted him 10th overall back in 2010, then it’s off to Laker Land he’ll go – either via trade or in free agency next summer.
George had his own sit-down with Kimmel Monday night, and he did his best to not get himself in trouble when asked if that moment would have any affect on him moving forward. “No man. I love Magic, (he’s a) great dude,” George said, before laughing when Kimmel responded by saying that it was good he thought that because he was going to be working for him with the Lakers. “I know I’m always going to get those L.A. ties, man. I’m an L.A. kid,” George said, before joking that former Lakers star Kobe Bryant is a bigger deal in his family household than he even is.
Still, he wasn’t quite willing to demand a trade to the Lakers on air, even if he didn’t exactly shut-down speculation that he’d rather be a Laker than a Pacer when Kimmel mentioned that all the speculation was a “worst-case scenario” for the Pacers. “It is. I love Indiana, man, it’s really a hard,” George said, trailing off.
Bird leaves the franchise at a crucial crossroads, with possible free agency looming for franchise star Paul George in the summer of 2018. The Pacers will have to decide on whether to continue to work on selling George on a future with the franchise, or consider the possibility of trading him to extract maximum value before George can leave in free agency.
Albert Nahmad: The power of the new designated veteran player rules will be in full display with Paul George this summer, even if he doesn’t make All-NBA. Pacers can give Paul George a DVP payout if gets All-NBA this season OR next season. By trading him, they’d lose 2nd major shot to keep him. Paul George has been an All-NBA player before. Making it again is not unrealistic. Which gives Pacers and trade partners lots to consider. Pacers need to decide whether they want to trade Paul George, who may not be able to pass up DVP money to stay if earns All-NBA next season. Even if Paul George requests a trade and says he won’t re-sign with the Pacers, he might reconsider if he has an extra $75M on the line!
Albert Nahmad: Potential trade partners for Paul George must decide whether to give up big assets to get him this summer (knowing he could walk away next). If a team waits to try to sign Paul George in free agency next summer, they risk possibly losing the chance if he makes All-NBA next season. The possibility of Paul George making All-NBA next season is just another way the DVP rules can impact decisions about star-level players.
Joseph Horner: Same with Hayward. Interesting idea. – RT: Albert Nahmad: The power of the new designated veteran player rules will be in full display with Paul George this summer, even if he doesn’t make All-NBA. Pacers can give Paul George a DVP payout if gets All-NBA this season OR next season. By trading him, they’d lose 2nd major shot to keep him. Paul George has been an All-NBA player before. Making it again is not unrealistic. Which gives Pacers and trade partners lots to consider. Pacers need to decide whether they want to trade Paul George, who may not be able to pass up DVP money to stay if earns All-NBA next season. Even if Paul George requests a trade and says he won’t re-sign with the Pacers, he might reconsider if he has an extra $75M on the line!
Brian Dulik: #Pacers SF Paul George on entering free agency in July: “I’m not at that point yet. Next question.” #NBA
Brian Dulik: #Pacers SF Paul George on thinking about his future: “My exit meeting is tomorrow. I’ll wait til that time. I’ll wait til that time.” #NBA
Sam Amick: I repeat: Paul George – barring a title chance in Indy – is hell-bent on heading for Laker Land. This message has been sent throughout NBA.
Although the Lakers have entertained trade discussions with the Indiana Pacers for small forward Paul George, league sources familiar with the situation said it’s more likely the Lakers will wait to pursue him when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the 2018 offseason. Then, the Lakers would not have to surrender any of their young assets.
For teams considering a trade for George, here’s the risk: As a free agent in the summer of 2018, he has considered re-signing with Indiana or joining his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, sources tell The Vertical.
Indiana continues to reject any calls about George, per several league sources. They are banking on the new CBA to help retain George; if he makes the All-NBA team this season, they could offer him the new designated mega-extension before he even hits free agency — a super-rich contract no rival could approach.
Bird: “I don’t want to get into Paul’s free agency. Before the year started, I told Paul and I said, ‘Look, if you want to sign a long-term deal, we’re willing to do that max (contract) and if you want to wait, I understand.’ But this year, we’re not going to worry about it, we’re not going to talk about it and he’s going to make the decision that’s best for Paul when it comes down to it.”
Do you see any changes in the new collective bargaining agreement having any impact on George’s free agency or is your position still the same in terms of offering him the max, whether it’s five years or six years? Bird: “Yeah, we want to keep him here long term. That’s the plan.”
Sources close to the situation say Indiana remains optimistic that the new Designated Player Exception will allow them to retain George long-term, assuming he makes one of the All-NBA teams this season.
In two years, two sons of Southern California – Indiana’s Paul George and Oklahoma City’s Westbrook – can become free agents and consider coming home. In their recent state of disrepair, the Lakers have been fully unappealing to superstar free agents. Kevin Durant wouldn’t take a meeting with them. The Lakers called the reps of Memphis’ Mike Conley on July 1, only to be told they wouldn’t be seriously considered. Miami center Hassan Whiteside passed, too.
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