My Completely Speculative Paul George Conspiracy Theory
Or, Why Paul George Would Screw Over the Pacers And Run For The (Hollywood) Hills
This is 100% speculation and conjecture. I have no sources or inside information.
Following the Indiana Pacers’ playoff elimination last month, Paul George, the team’s resident superstar, was not voted onto any of the All-NBA Teams, meaning that he is not eligible to receive a better contract offer from the Pacers than any other team could match when he enters free agency following the 2017–18 season. This, of course, is the time frame because he has indicated that he would decline his player option for the 2018–19 season.
Even more recently, however, it has been made public that regardless of all that Paul George has simply lost interest in playing for the Pacers altogether, and will not re-sign with them regardless of the contract particulars. As private information between himself and the organization, this is not a big deal at all. The fact that it’s public information makes it a huge deal. It undercuts the Pacers ability to negotiate trades for him in an attempt to make the most of a bad situation and profit from his departure. Every other General Manager in the NBA knows the bind that the Pacers are in, and will make lowball offers accordingly. Likewise, potential suitors may be turned off knowing that George intends to be a Laker and doesn’t care what other teams offer him to stay.
That’s right, he has publicly expressed interest in returning to Southern California, his native home, and wearing the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers, his favorite team growing up. Which is a fine thing to do, but why screw everyone over in the process? He’ll be a free agent in a year, in full control of his destiny, and the Lakers organization and their fan base want him, and have publicly said so. It’s a perfect match. So why screw over the Pacers in the process?
Paul George was spoiled by having early team success in his career. He made his name as an emerging star on a team that mounted the greatest challenge to Lebron James and his Heatles over their four year run, including two Eastern Conference Finals appearances. As the team disintegrated around him — he saw his mentor Danny Granger traded away, and his draft classmate Lance Stephenson left for selfish reasons, then his good friend (not teammate, colleague, coworker, FRIEND) Roy Hibbert was run out of town on a rail by Larry Bird, which in turn angered David West enough to walk away from $12 million dollars, and finally longtime teammate George Hill was traded away and Head Coach Frank Vogel was fired. Frank Vogel notably pulled George from the end of the bench when he took over the team and made him a rotation player, unleashing his talent and potential that former Head Coach Jim O’Brien was content to squander.
Oh, and he broke his leg, ostensibly ruining an entire season for the franchise where they would have been expected to once again contend had he been healthy, they did win 38 games without him, so 50 wins with him doesn’t sound unreasonable. Despite the costly set back, his return was hyped up to legendary levels, with his team and his adoptive city buzzing about his recovery and bright future.
In the years since the injury, the team has undergone major transformations in a quest to adapt to the modern style of basketball favored by the league. It has been a bumpy road as experiments have failed and courses have been corrected.
Because of his early success, though, Paul George expects to be in title contention every year, because those halcyon days made it seem so easy. He has never played on a bad team, slogging through an 82 game season, tallying 50 losses along the way. So, as the faces in his locker room change, and wins don’t pile up with the same ease as they once did, he gets frustrated. He speaks out about how he needs the organization to get him better players to make the team viable in the playoffs. Then proves to be too impatient to develop chemistry with them. He admits how frustrating it is to lose to Lebron James every year. He calls out teammates for taking (but missing) good shots.
He gets sick of the entire situation.
Then he gets a phone call. It’s Lebron James. They’re friendly off the court after all, and George admires Lebron’s game and achievements. Lebron has just lost to the Kevin Durant led Warriors in the Finals. He tells Paul how powerful this Warriors juggernaut is, and admits that his title window in Cleveland is closing. The team isn’t built to compete and they lack the assets and cap space to improve significantly on the fly. They have contracts that are holding them hostage. He’s worried that, after 14 seasons and 8 Finals appearances, he’ll only get one more long term contract, and he wants to make the most of it.
Lebron knows Paul George wants to play for the Lakers. And Lebron James is beginning to think about life after basketball, planning for that eventuality, and his plans involve the entertainment industries where Los Angeles rules. They can both enter free agency after the 2017–18 season, as well, if they choose to. So they discuss the mutual benefits of joining forces, along with the Lakers collection of young but unproven talent, and a head coach from the Steve Kerr tree with intimate knowledge of the Warriors. Lebron feels like Paul can lighten the load on him enough to really shine, and Paul sees Lebron as taking the pressure to produce off of him enough to prosper. It’s a match made in heaven, er, Hollywood.
Add into the mix the swaggering entrance of Magic Johnson to the offices of the Lakers, and his desire and promise to deliver titles and glory to the Lakers like in the years of old. He can afford to pay top dollar for a one-two punch intended to stifle Kevin Durant and take down the newly dynastic Warriors. And with a few more rings, Lebron probably won’t stay beyond four or five years, at which time a 32-ish year old Paul George can be the veteran leader and main man of the vaunted Lakers franchise.
Lebron and Paul agree that teaming up in Los Angeles is the best possible option for both of them, and that even as the Lakers are a team on the rise without them, they’d be limitless with them.
But Lebron feels obligated to see things through in Cleveland. His squad has one last run to make. Paul sees the Pacers as spinning their wheels, getting nowhere, and figures a trade would benefit him in the short term and the Pacers in the long term more than playing out his deal and leaving via free agency. So he allows his intentions to be leaked to the public, thinking it would make a trade to the Lakers a foregone conclusion. He could get there first and start building chemistry with the young guys, and learn the system, making implementing Lebron into it even easier when he arrives. (On a side note, with Jimmy Butler now traded to Minnesota, and Paul George in LA early, it removes two potential superstar challengers from the Eastern Conference, paving an even smoother path for the Cavaliers to reach the Finals once more.)
Except it hurt the Pacers from a negotiating leverage position. After balking at lowball offers, the Pacers are now stuck with a star they don’t want and who doesn’t want to be there, and the Lakers are content to wait a year and get him cheaper.
If Paul George takes to the floor of Banker’s Life Fieldhouse wearing a Pacers uniform, the home crowd will boo him after his poorly conceived gambit has turned so sour. Playing him is not an option. Sitting him, paying him to stay home, also isn’t an option, as the Player’s Association would have a major issue with a superstar being held out for a year without sufficient cause.
Trading him is the only option the Pacers have now, and every other team knows that. No one will pay a fair price for a one season rental of his talents, and the Lakers won’t overspend now that the walls are undeniably closing in on the Pacers. They’ll make an offer, to jumpstart the process early, but it will be lopsided in their favor. And thus, intending to help the team move on without him, Paul George has screwed up and cost them dearly.
I doubt he’ll mind if he and Lebron, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram square off against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals come Spring of 2019, though. Winning fixes a lot of stuff. But he’ll always get booed in Indy.
The Pacers on the other hand will return to the middle of the pack, refuse to tank or initiate a complete rebuild, and rise once more in a few years to be a sleeper pick to make a deep playoff run, never quite having enough talent/luck to win a championship, all with a payroll consistently in the bottom 10 of the league.
That’s just how it goes in Indiana.