March 21, 2017
Often in the NBA, trade rumors for a superstar start to heat up a couple of years before that player actually becomes a free agent. That is because when a team is in danger of seeing that player walk for nothing, they have to at least start thinking about trading him while he still has some time left on his deal. Think about how bad Cleveland became the second LeBron took his talents to South Beach in 2010.
Jimmy Butler was the hottest big name at the NBA Trade Deadline, and with Chicago's grim future prospects, those trade rumors certainly won't go away. But perhaps a more interesting situation is in Indiana with Paul George, who is stuck on a Doug Collins-esque middling team and also able to bolt in free agency after the 2017-18 season. The Pacers are now playing that tricky game of wanting to keep George but also not wanting to see him walk for nothing.
And according to Zach Lowe's latest piece on ESPN, the Sixers were at least talking with the Pacers about trading for George at the deadline:
Bird knows he is on the clock with George. The Lakers loom as a threat in free agency. The Pacers engaged at least the Celtics, Sixers, Hawks and Nuggets in trade talks for George at the deadline, though they never appeared serious about moving him, per league sources. (Bird has called the George rumors "fake news"). They explored trading Rodney Stuckey for a backup rim protector, including John Henson, sources say, and Bird will dangle Indy's first-round pick again this summer in search of veteran help. Bird has been aggressive trading picks for Luis Scola and Thaddeus Young.
On one hand, this makes a ton of sense. Perhaps after chatting with his old buddy Danny Ainge in Boston, Larry Bird's next call should be to Bryan Colangelo if he was in fact gauging the trade market for George. The Sixers have the combination of young players and assets that most other teams can't match. As long as they are doing due diligence, you'll see them pop up in a lot of trade rumors.
Lowe also brought up another scenario that, quite frankly, would terrify me as a Sixers fan:
The Lakers? They might be the one team confident enough to wait for George's free agency. George's interest in L.A. is real, and widely known. But nothing is certain until you get that signature, and every day between now and that July 2018 day brings the risk of some unknown variable messing up your plans.
If the pingpong balls bounce L.A.'s way in the lottery, the Lakers could approach Indy with an offer built around Brandon Ingram and a top-3 pick. That's a lot, but it wouldn't represent a Melo-style roster ravaging from George's standpoint. He's ready to win now; Ingram and a teenaged rookie won't be ready to win for years.
If the Lakers are confident they can land the Los Angeles native in free agency, then it wouldn't affect that first-round pick coming Philly's way this year or next. But even if I struggle to see George and this current team (minus Ingram, who isn't really making a positive impact right now) making the playoffs in the Western Conference, there is no doubt that he could do serious damage to the unprotected first-round pick in 2018.
The new CBA and the "designated player exception" could help Indy offer way more money for George, but there is a decent shot that he won't make another All-NBA team that is required for that type of contract. Indiana would have to wait until next year (when his contract can expire) to offer it again, which presents the same set of problems.
Regardless, it's officially time to start the Paul George trade rumors. They aren't going anywhere.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann