Paul George will leave the Indiana Pacers as a free agent next summer, reports The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, with his most likely destination being the Los Angeles Lakers. The George-to-L.A. rumors first popped up around the trade deadline in February, and now George has reportedly made it clear he plans to leave Indy in free agency. The news may not be comforting to the Pacers' front office, but the timing and clarity will likely be appreciated, as Indy GM Kevin Pritchard can head into the draft and free agency with an eye toward the future.
What does the George news ultimately mean for the Lakers and Pacers? Let's break it down.
For The Lakers
L.A. is in a great position with the George news. Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka can sit back and wait for a superstar to come to them, and not have to worry about parting with any assets in a trade. Johnson now has another full year to study his young core and decide which players will be most worth keeping around to (likely) surround George. And don't underestimate the impact this move could have on other free agents. Maybe other stars will be more likely to join the Lakers with the knowledge George will also be in place.
Though George is a legitimate two-way star, his addition wouldn't automatically launch the Lakers into title contention. The diminishing play and onerous contracts of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov are still an issue. Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell still have to prove themselves as building blocks. And Johnson and Pelinka are still relative novices when it comes to team building.
Still, the report is nothing but a win for the Lakers—as long as George doesn't change his mind between now and next summer. But if the constant rumors are any indication, George has had his eyes set on Los Angeles for a long time.
For The Pacers
George's decision to leave is a tough blow for the Pacers. While Pritchard can head into this off-season with a clear vision about the future of his team, he has also lost all leverage in trade talks with other teams. George was a candidate to be sent to a contender this summer, but now it could be difficult to acquire in meaningful assets in return for George if he has his heart set on Los Angeles.
Larry Bird's departure from the front office earlier this spring was likely a sign that George wouldn't commit long term to the Pacers, and now Indy's small-market minded ownership faces a challenging rebuild. Myles Turner is a solid piece, but Indy doesn't pick in the lottery this year—and likely won't next year if George actually plays through his final season. The Monta Ellis contract is an albatross. And outside of Turner, the Pacers don't have any notable young talent.
Most likely, the Pacers will find a way to trade George, perhaps even as early as the draft. There is no reason to keep him on the team if he plans to leave, and even if the haul won't be as big as it would have been four months ago, getting something for George as opposed to nothing is the smart move.
East contenders had their eye on George during the trade deadline, and George's L.A. intentions will now have ramifications on their plans. As our Ben Golliver laid out, a George-for-Kevin Love swap made a lot of sense for the Cavaliers, but would Cleveland pull the trigger on such a move if it only amounts to a rental? Love is the Cavs' best trade asset, and could likely be used better somewhere else at this point. (That is, of course, Cleveland really believes LeBron could leave next summer so the front office goes all in.)
Boston could still use George's services, though the Celtics would have a logjam at forward if they draft one at No. 3. A Celtics team with George and another marquee free agent could make a serious run at the Finals in the East, and Boston has a wide enough range of assets to pull off a deal for George. Would Danny Ainge feel like he could convince George to stay in Boston? It's a tall order, and Ainge has been content to be patient with all his chips.
Whatever the case, George won't be a Pacer for much longer. Now it's a matter of if he joins his new team next year or next week.