There are two big red flags for Celtics boss Danny Ainge when it comes to a potential trade of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft for Pacers swingman Paul George.
The first is that George can become a free agent in the summer of 2018. The second is that once he becomes a free agent, he seemingly has his mind locked on becoming a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
New Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard, who was elevated to that position from GM in Indy after Larry Bird stepped down, is saying all the right things currently when it comes to George. Pritchard wants George to stay put, and he thinks he can build a winner around him in Indianapolis.
“Paul and I talked, I don’t know, 45 minutes to an hour,” Pritchard told the Indy Star recently. “We talked about a lot of things, and in every scenario he wanted to be here. He kept coming back to one statement that hits me hard, and we all know: He wants to win … The Pacers want to win. We’re on the same page.”
Of course, that’s all window dressing. Pritchard wants to make it look like everything is going smoothly in Indy when Paul’s desire to leave Indy for greener pastures (no pun intended) is plain to see.
George tweeted a blank reply (and quickly deleted it) to a Bleacher Report story last month with a headline that read: “Paul Pierce thinks Celtics should trade No. 1 overall pick.”
It’s curious in that George rarely “replies” to anyone or anything on Twitter (he’s “replied” just twice since the Celtics tweet).
Butt tweet maybe? It’s possible, but I’m going to wager to say that George had something on his mind that day that did not involve him buying Midwest real estate.
As for the rental player stuff for Ainge and the Celtics – yes, giving up a shot at a once-in-a-generation talent like Markelle Fultz for a guy who could potentially leave after one season is an incredible gamble. But at the same time, George is just entering his prime at 27-years of age. There’s zero guarantee that Fultz will become a perennial All-Star and a player who averages over 20 points per game in the NBA like George.
This “rent a superstar” gamble is one that Ainge has talked about over and over again throughout the years – during times he’s been pressed on bringing in players like Kevin Love and Chris Paul. Ainge hasn’t put his money where his mouth is when it comes to this type of thing, but hell – I believe him.
At the height of the Love to Boston rumors three years ago, Ainge told 98.5 FM’s Toucher and Rich that he “would be open to trading for a high caliber player in their last year without an agreement to an extension.”
Ainge firmly believes that once a player gets a taste of the Celtics organization, particularly when the Garden is bumping and Boston is a contender, that player will fall in love. The fact that the Celtics would, in this scenario, be able to pay George more money than any other team in free agency doesn’t hurt either.
As for the allure of the Lakers (George is from Palmdale, California and grew up a Lakers fan), who knows what that franchise will look like a year from now? The good money says they’ll draft Lonzo Ball at No. 2, but then these LeBron James free agency rumors have popped up recently too. George would be a logical choice to join LeBron in LA in the summer of 2018, but LeBron would likely push for the Lakers to bring in his buddies Carmelo Anthony (who plays the same position as George) and Dwyane Wade prior to that ever happening.
LeBron jumping to the Western Conference would also give the Celtics a wide open path to the NBA Finals for the foreseeable future.