Paul George, Celtics, Lakers, NBA, trade, rumors
Paul George looks to blow by Celtics forward Jae Crowder in 2015-16. Getty Images

Is a Paul George trade by the Celtics worth the risk of losing him in NBA free agency in the summer of 2018?

It’s become increasingly likely that Boston is willing to make that gamble. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski has been all over the George to the Celtics rumors since last week. Wojnarowski is the be-all and end-all of NBA information and the Celtics are the only team he’s linked to the Pacers and George all along in “serious trade conversations.” Because of all the Kristaps Porzingis buzz just before the draft, Wojnarowski’s explanation on George’s situation and the Celtics potential interest got lost in the shuffle during a Vertical Facebook Live chat last Wednesday night.

“Almost every team in the league has checked in (with Indiana) to see what the price would be, if there’s a way for them to get involved,” Wojnarowski said. “The Pacers spent (last week) trying to rate the offers they have – how they feel about the packages.

“Executives are debating how far they want to go. Anybody would love to have Paul George on their team. How many assets do you give up for a player who is telling you he will not re-sign with your team, he will go to LA and sign with the Lakers in free agency in 2018 … though there’s a few teams that are thinking, “Maybe we can change his mind. Maybe we’ll give up a little bit more for him, because we can sell him on staying here. There’s others who say – here’s our limit, we’ll go this far because he’s probably just a rental.


“I think the market has been diluted for him a little bit because of how great the Warriors are. In another year there may be multiple teams who would have thought, ‘Paul George could put us over the top. That if there’s one player out there, a player of that caliber – especially when you’re trying to beat Golden State and you have a 6-foot-9 wing player who can defend Kevin Durant and who can play both ends of the floor.’ But there are no teams out there that think – as great of a player as Paul George is – that he alone could get them over the top.”

Of course, Wojnarowski gave a strong indication on Tuesday that that second player is Utah swingman Gordon Hayward, who the Celtics want to sign first before making a trade for George.


Why would George want to stay in Boston?

If the Celtics do land George and Hayward this summer, they will have to start playing some salary cap gymnastics. It would be extremely tricky to keep both George and Isaiah Thomas next summer unless someone is willing to take a pay cut – and given that Thomas has been underpaid most of his career, it won’t likely be him.

George, as you might have heard, wants to go to the Lakers next summer. At this time (and since he would have lost his Designated Player eligibility in a trade away from the Pacers), it’s likely that he would have relatively equal free agent offers from the Celtics and Lakers in 2018. If that’s the case, you’d have to think the Lakers are the favorites.

As is typically the case, though, when it comes to the NBA offseason this decade, a lot rides on the decisions of LeBron James. If LeBron goes to the Lakers in free agency next summer, which has been heavily rumored, then would George be willing to take an ego hit and become a second banana (or third banana if you ask LaVar Ball) in Los Angeles?

No doubt, George would be THE MAN in Boston, and since he was traded there he wouldn’t exactly have a Kevin Durant-like “ring chaser” label in the court of public opinion.

George at least seems like a player who wants to create his own legacy in the NBA. When you willfully join a 73-win team or the best player in the sport in LeBron – you are a ring chaser. No question.

That said, it would take a special cat to quickly “fall in love with Boston” during the brutal winters – particularly when you’re from the sunny Los Angeles area and you grew up a Lakers fan.

Paul Pierce was also a Los Angeles native and rooted for the purple and gold as a child. He eventually “fell in love with Boston,” but it took a while. It has never seemed like George and Pierce are especially close, but for what it’s worth – Pierce was the one who floated the idea of the Celtics trading draft picks for a superstar veteran in May, and George “replied” to an article about Pierce’s statement on Twitter.


Pacers running out of options

Wojnarowski wrote in his Tuesday piece, “For Boston, here’s the hitch: While Indiana believes Boston can offer the best possible package, the Pacers may be unwilling to wait until the start of July free agency on Boston’s timetable and could turn toward making a deal elsewhere for George, league sources told The Vertical.”

The hot trade partner for the Pacers early Tuesday was the Wizards, simply because John Wall said he wanted to play with George. The Wizards have little to offer the Pacers, however - nothing close that would even compare to the Lakers/Kings pick the Celtics got from Philly 10 days ago – let alone the 2018 Brooklyn pick. Trading Bradley Beal would defeat the purpose of a George trade for the Wizards, and a player package centered around Markieff Morris likely isn’t appealing to Indiana. The Wizards do own most all of their own draft picks in the next few years to dangle, but Washington will likely be picking in the late first round in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

As for the Lakers potentially trying to trade for George, they would have to budge on the idea of not trading away Brandon Ingram. Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reported this week that talks between the Lakers and Pacers “died off two days before the 2017 NBA draft” and that the “Pacers are not eager to fulfill George’s wish to be sent to the Lakers unless it favors them.”

Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard also may bypass a Lakers trade for George simply out of spite for the way George blatantly said he was leaving for LA next summer. The comments immediately sent his trade value way down.

“It couldn’t have come at a worse time,” Pritchard said. “If we would have known this a few months ago, I think we could have been more prepared. Becoming public was a big issue. We want our players to want to be here. That’s important. It really is. When Paul said he didn’t, that’s a gut punch.”

The Cavaliers also remain as a team interested in acquiring George, but they would need a third team to enter the picture in order to send draft picks and/or young players the Pacers’ way. The Cavs would also then run the threat of seeing both LeBron and George jumping to the Lakers in 2018 if a deal went down.


Should the Celtics do it?

This is a gamble worth taking for the Celtics. The Anthony Davis stuff is an absolute pipe dream, and the Celtics would be wise to take advantage of the primes of the careers of the two stars they already have in Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford.

For those concerned about the future, I offer you this: the Celtics can pull of this George trade without having to give up 20-year-old Jaylen Brown, 19-year-old Jayson Tatum and either the 2018 Brooklyn pick or Lakers/Kings pick. In other words, they can hold on to two lottery picks who could blossom into superstars and they’ll have a lottery pick in either next year or the following year’s draft.

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