Typically, when a star hits the trade block, there is but a small handful of teams with a big enough asset base to be in the running. Boston, Phoenix, Denver, maybe one or two other teams — these have been the usual suspects for a couple years now, able to outbid anyone else who might want to join the conversation to land an isolated or disgruntled All-Star.
The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported this afternoon that Paul George plans to leave the Pacers when his contract expires at the end of this coming season, and that the Pacers are now listening to offers for George as a one-season rental.
Sources: Indiana's Kevin Pritchard engaging teams on trading Paul George, but so far, not Lakers. There's a rental market, but how robust? https://t.co/oM9XrATMr9— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 18, 2017
This news alters the usual trade market power structure of the NBA. Any team thinking of ponying up an offer to the Pacers will be playing a game of chicken with George’s internal desires.
George’s unusual circumstances, and his depressed trade value as a rent-only asset, should open up the bidding to more teams than normal. For teams playing the long game, mortgaging future assets for a season of George could be a short-sighted and ill-fated venture.
Basic probability suggests that Raptors are unlikely to come away with George this summer. Toronto does, however, occupy a George-friendly place on its organizational trajectory. Stuck below Cleveland in the East, with no open cap space to spend in free agency, trade is the only viable path by which the Raptors can tangibly improve the roster in short order. Kyle Lowry — if he’s back — figures to be at his peak for two or three more seasons at most. Same goes for Serge Ibaka. DeMar DeRozan is as good as he’s ever been. George is the kind of player who seamlessly fits into most offensive systems. In a pure basketball sense, Toronto could be one of the most sensible places for George to play out the remainder of his contract.
That brings us to the all important question of cost. With the uncertainty he brings, George’s value is at an all-time low. He is, however, ridiculously good, and a proven world-beating playoff performer. If there are multiple suitors for him as a rental, the price could get driven up beyond the usual price for a highly-prized rent-a-player.
Any package the Raptors might throw at the Pacers would almost certainly have to involve Norman Powell — the man who helped derail Indiana’s bid for a first-round upset in 2016 with that indelible Game 5 dunk. Powell might be among the better young players that could hypothetically be on the table in a George trade this summer. Teams aren’t going to be itching to hand over blue-chippers for one season of George unless it can bump them into the realm of surefire contention. And teams like Cleveland lack the youthful assets that Indiana may want in return for their star; Kevin Love is great, but he doesn’t line up with a Myles Turner and any other young players Indiana might hand the future over to.
Beyond Powell, Jonas Valanciunas would likely have to be included for salary matching purposes, along with the prospects and picks of the Pacers choosing. For example...
Throw in a first round pick, possibly even two and you have the makings of what could be a front-of-the-pack offer if the league’s biggest asset hoarders are scared off by George’s contract status. It may seem steep, but franchise players don’t come cheap, even for one-year mercenary stints.
Risk will be inherent to any George deal that may transpire this summer. In the case of the Raptors, a core of Lowry, DeRozan, Ibaka and George is no surefire antidote to LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Even if it is, the Warriors lie beyond. The odds are against this season ending in a Raptors championship even if George is involved. George would, however, put the Raptors in the position to capitalize should injury or random weirdness cause the Warriors to stumble at out west. With Toronto’s window likely staying open for just a couple more seasons, it might be the best shot this edition of the Raptors can hope to muster.
Should George leave, behind him will be the decimated remains of the pipeline of cheap, back of the roster talent Masai Ujiri has accrued over the last few years. That’s a troubling future to ponder — perhaps troubling enough to dissuade the Raptors from pulling the trigger on a deal in the first place.
But then there’s the tantalizing question: what if a year of winning basketball, maybe even a Finals trip, is enough to persuade George to abandon his plans to head to LA?
For a team like the Raptors, in search of a way to make the impossible leap from good to great, it might be worth the risk to go all-in. There’s no saying when another top-10 player may become widely available again.
What would you give up for one season of Paul George with the hope of more?