Would Pacers pursue Paul George in free agency? 'We're different now,' GM says

Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5153/" data-ylk="slk:Victor Oladipo">Victor Oladipo</a> emerged from <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4725/" data-ylk="slk:Paul George">Paul George</a>’s shadow. (Getty Images)
Victor Oladipo emerged from Paul George’s shadow. (Getty Images)

In case you were wondering where the Indiana Pacers are now as a franchise, they’re trying to figure out if free-agent-to-be Paul George would even fit onto a team now dominated by the man they traded him for, and that’s a pretty wonderful place to be if you’re general manager Kevin Pritchard.

Asked on ESPN 1070 if the Pacers would put a call into George — the five-time All-Star who all but forced the trade that sent him to the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis — Pritchard told host Dan Dakich, according to The Indianapolis Star:

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“I would want to know first that he would fit us. We’re different now. One of the things we’re about, we don’t care about big names, we don’t care about big personalities, we don’t care about big brands. What we care about is being humble. …

“Anybody that fits in, yeah we’re interested. … I can’t talk on specific players. But if they don’t fit that, I’m not interested. It’s that simple.

“When we look at trades, free agency and the draft, we want those kind of guys. The guys willing to do the little stuff. Everybody is talented in this league. … We think our biggest talent was we played the right way.”

Pressed on it, Pritchard wouldn’t give a hard yes or no, reiterating that he can’t get into specifics.

Wait, was that just a shot at Paul George?

It sounded like he fired several of them. After George spent much of the 2016-17 season expressing how bummed he was about showing up for work with the Pacers and complaining that his teammates have “no winning pride,” he informed the organization that he would not re-sign in Indiana, instead listing his hometown Los Angeles Lakers as a preferred destination. Let’s just say the Pacers had some question as to George’s humility, willingness to do the little stuff and zeal for playing the right way.

George was traded to OKC two weeks later in a deal that was widely panned for Indiana’s return. Then, Oladipo transformed himself into an All-NBA talent, serving as the figurehead for a team that wildly exceeded expectations, capturing a No. 5 seed and pushing LeBron JamesCleveland Cavaliers to a seventh game in a knockdown drag-out first-round series. It was the most promising playoff performance by the Pacers since George pushed James to the brink in consecutive conference finals.

The Pacers were swept by the Cavs with George at the helm in 2017. In Oklahoma City, where George branded himself “Playoff P,” his Thunder flamed out in a six-game first-round loss to the Utah Jazz.

Would Paul George be a fit on these Pacers?

Theoretically, George is exactly the type of player who could make Indiana a threat in the East. The Pacers lacked a secondary playmaker alongside Oladipo and a top-line defensive wing to throw at James, relying heavily on Bojan Bogdanovic and Lance Stephenson. George is both those things.

The Pacers are well-positioned with Oladipo handling the ball and the promising pair of Myles Turner and Sabonis at center. You can never have too many wings around them, and George is one of the NBA’s best. The knock on him was his ability to carry an offense, something Oladipo proved capable of in the first round, and George showed promise as an off-ball option for Russell Westbrook in OKC.

Can this really happen?

The Pacers won’t quite have max cap space, but they can get there with some roster maneuvering. So, yes, Pritchard absolutely could offer George the type of money he’ll be seeking in the open market.

Would Paul George actually return to the Pacers?

Whether the Pacers actually want to get back with an ex who spurned them for another is a different matter. The same goes for George. Indiana is in love with Oladipo now, and George returning to the fold would only complicate matters. If there wasn’t so much history there, they might make for fast friends, but his return would surface bad memories with the good and open the door for jealousy.

While Oladipo represents the type of player George wished the Pacers would have surrounded him with the last time they were chasing East elite status, the likelihood is too great that he would fall into the same habits that soured him on Indiana in the first place. How could he cede control to the same guy who showed how the Pacers could be better off without him? He probably couldn’t. If George leaves Oklahoma City this summer, it’s probably for the same Lakers team he originally told the Pacers he’d prefer. And that’s why Pritchard probably feels complete freedom flexing on George’s fit now.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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