The big NBA news that emerged Thursday could mean that, by next summer, Pacers star Paul George will be a member of the Lakers. The day brought another intriguing tidbit regarding the 27-year-old swingman: The Hawks badly wanted to bring him to Atlanta in midseason.
How badly? According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, as February’s trade deadline approached, the Hawks offered four first-round picks for George. That’s a potentially franchise-altering haul — just ask the Celtics and Nets — but apparently the Pacers declined that bid, as well as offers from other teams.
George can opt out of his Indiana contract after next season, but he could have been eligible for a massive extension if he had made one of the three all-NBA teams, which were announced Thursday. He came reasonably close in the voting but missed, and thus missed out on a triggering mechanism for a deal worth more than $200 million from the Pacers, much more than any other team could offer in free agency.
Instead, Indiana may consider the possibility of trading away George, lest the team be left with nothing if he decamps elsewhere. A Southern California native, the four-time all-star has been widely linked to the Lakers, although George could still make an all-NBA team next year and thus be eligible for the lucrative extension.
The Hawks, per Windhorst, were prepared to not only take on all that risk but mortgage a big chunk of their future. Atlanta might have been motivated by frustration, as a team that has made the playoffs in each of the past 10 years but has only once made it as far as the conference finals. In the LeBron James-dominated East, the Hawks could have tried to pair George with Paul Millsap to build the kind of star power necessary to make a title run.
Atlanta also reportedly went hard after the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler, although it is unclear if it made the same offer to Chicago. The Hawks have some first-rounders to spare; in addition to their own over the next few years, they have one from the Timberwolves in 2018 (lottery-protected), and one from the Cavaliers in 2019 (top 10-protected).
The Pacers may now be regretting not accepting the Hawks’ offer (assuming Windhorst’s report is accurate), but superstar players are such a rare commodity that it’s hard to blame them for taking their chances on keeping George long-term. As noted, he may yet qualify for the extension, and even if not, Indiana can still offer him a boatload of cash and the opportunity to continue to be the face of the franchise.