It sounds as if there’s more backchannel communications going to Los Angeles about the Pacers forward, who can opt out of his contract in 2018.
For the Lakers, they are pretty confident and have a great deal of belief that they’re in position to get Paul George in 2018. Whether he stays in Indiana or he’s traded elsewhere, he’s going to be a free agent in 18 if he doesn’t re-sign this summer in Indiana. They don’t have to give assets up to go and try to trade for him. In fact, I think they’ve been encouraged to do just the opposite. If Paul George is going to go there, he wants them to have assets. He wants them to be as good of a team as they can when he walks in.
With George missing the All-NBA teams, an extension this year is completely illogical. Whether he remains in Indiana or gets traded, he’ll almost certainly become an unrestricted free agent in 2018.
George could earn more on his next contract if the Lakers trade for him first and then he re-signs in Los Angeles rather than leaving a prior team for the Lakers. The difference – $177 million over five years (about $35 million annually) vs. $132 million over four years (about $33 million annually) – is real, but it’s not necessarily enough to outweigh playing for a better team.
The Lakers have some nice young building blocks: D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac and the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft (Lonzo Ball?). George could join them just as they’re ready to win and reap outsized credit for turning around the franchise. There’s value in that.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean George will sign with the Lakers.
Even if he or someone from his camp instructed the Lakers not to trade for him, George could just be getting his ducks in a row just in case. If George is even considering the Lakers, why not use his leverage to make Los Angeles as desirable an option as possible? He could also tell numerous teams, including Indiana, what would please him the most. That would just increase his chances of finding an ideal team in 2018, even if he doesn’t yet know which team that will be. Remember, Kevin Durant told the Celtics (and, I’d guess, other teams) what players he wanted to join him and then signed with the Warriors.
Or maybe George doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into Los Angeles yet. If the Lakers trade for him, he’d face immense backlash if he leaves his hometown team in free agency. This could just be George’s way of biding time as he evaluates options.
The Lakers’ optimism means something. But, even after regime change, it doesn’t mean everything.