George gets back to work with Pacers as trade rumors swirl
INDIANAPOLIS — Paul George showed up to work Wednesday wearing the same Indiana Pacers uniform he has all season.
He has no changes planned for Thursday, either.
With rumors swirling about George’s future and the NBA’s trade deadline set for 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, the four-time All-Star tried to tamp down speculation by staying focused on his current job.
“I’ve got a team to turn around in the second half, and that’s what I’m committed to,” he said Wednesday after an evening practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
George could have avoided a bit of conflict if he had used those same words in an interview Friday on ESPN Radio.
Instead, he talked about his desire to “play on a winning team” after being asked about a possible extension with the Pacers, leading some to wonder if George is uneasy about a long-term deal in Indiana. An unwillingness to sign could land him on the trading block.
George knows it’s all part of the basketball business, even if it’s tricky for big-name players.
If he is actually available, the 26-year-old star would be one of the hottest commodities on the market.
George is again one of the league’s best scorers, has appeared on the league’s all-defensive team three times and was the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2013. He’s led his team to two conference finals and won an Olympic gold medal. And he has a propensity for delivering on promises, like when he swore to come back better than ever after breaking his lower right leg in a horrifying scene two years ago.
Now Pacers fans want to know whether George will make good on another promise: Bringing the franchise its first NBA title.
The decision may rest more with Larry Bird, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations, than George.
Bird is trying to do what’s best for the short and long term. Indiana has lost six straight and is currently seeded sixth in the Eastern Conference.
George wants to be a part of the solution.
“I think we can make moves to get better,” he said. “I’m confident in where we’re at and what we can do.”
George’s contract has added a twist to the traditional discussions.
While Bird has already offered a max contract extension, George can opt out of his current deal after next season. He seemed to indicate he might do just that during last week’s All-Star activities.
“As I told Larry, I always want to play on a winning team. I always want to be part of a team that has a chance to win it (all). That’s important,” George said Friday. “Say what you want; I want to compete for something. It’s frustrating just playing the game for stats or for numbers or to showcase yourself. Man, I want a chance to play for a chance to win a championship.
“I wanted to be the first and want to be the first to be able to bring a championship to Indiana,” George added. “So that’s still on my mind … and something I definitely want to achieve in Indiana.”
The Indianapolis Star reported Wednesday that George and team owner Herb Simon met in New Orleans, a subject George declined to discuss Wednesday.
George did say that he and Bird are “on the same page.”
What exactly that means for Thursday remains unclear.
Bird must decide what works best — strengthening George’s supporting cast, or collecting players and draft picks so they can go in a different direction.
George’s teammates are hopeful the star is still around for Friday night’s game against Memphis.
“I would hope so,” point guard Jeff Teague said. “I enjoy playing with him. He’s the reason I wanted to be here.”