INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - We’re mad. Not burning-jerseys mad; Paul George was good but he was never burning-jerseys good. He never inspired the owner, in this case Herb Simon, to trash him in a letter to fans (in comic sans) which said the Pacers would win a title before George ever won one elsewhere.
But this feels personal, like a betrayal, and as the citizen of a city that rates as a small or middle-sized market, I understand that. Like the folks in Oklahoma City, we’re tired of being a farm club for teams in bigger, glitzier markets. Paul George cannot play another second in a Pacers uniform. Shoot, I’m not so sure it’s a great idea for PG to show his face around here, at least for some time to come.
It also feels like a betrayal to Pacers management. While it’s true that his homesickness for Los Angeles has never been a great secret, he has told Larry Bird and Kevin Pritchard in private conversations – some of them very recent – that he was willing to see how the Pacers’ past and present brain trust might surround him in an effort to be more competitive in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
Recently, in fact, Pritchard unveiled a plan for George that Pritchard believed would likely make the Pacers a top-four seed in the East, adding free agent pieces and making some trades. George seemed intrigued by the idea. And then, a few days later, the story leaked…
I want out and I want to go to the Lakers.
Here is what I know: George never previously told the Pacers he had every intention to bolt for Los Angeles at the end of next season. Maybe he was playing them for fools, but publicly, privately, he never shared that information, at least until his agent told the Pacers Friday afternoon. If that makes them naïve, then call them naïve, but ultimately, who are you going to believe? Are you going to believe rumors and whispers, presumably from George’s closest friends and associates, or are you going to believe George when he’s speaking to you man-to-man? Maybe that was the Pacers’ biggest mistake: They believed George was a man of his word.
Look, I’m not mad at George the way you’re mad at George. That’s the difference between being a journalist and being a ticket-buying fan. I have absolutely no issue with his desire, or anybody’s desire, to move back home to play for the hometown team – or at least one of the two hometown teams. He will be a free agent after next season. He can call the shots. And it’s better that he gave them a heads up, as David West did, rather than pull a Kevin Durant and leave them holding the bag – an empty bag.
Given the choice of Los Angeles (which is home) and Indianapolis (which is not), where would you choose to go if you were George’s age and in George’s tax bracket? We love this place and for very good reason. But seriously, Redondo Beach or Indiana Beach? Manhattan Beach or Beech Grove? Let’s be real here.
It’s just the timing of it and the way it was done that’s so disappointing.
The timing: His agent, Aaron Mintz, spoke to Pritchard and broke the news Friday. That gave the Pacers less than a week to prepare for a franchise-altering decision, to make a seismic move that will shape the team’s future for the next three, four years or even longer. If George’s exit was such a fait accompli, he should have gone to Pritchard earlier and shared this news, thus allowing the team’s new president and general manager ample time to not only make deals, but work out some of the top draft picks who might turn into part of a trade.
The tactics: I’m not going to charge Mintz or George’s people with having leaked this information because I don’t know for a fact whether they leaked this information. But I have my suspicions. What this did was artificially limit the Pacers’ options and squeeze the market. If you’re the Lakers and you know he’s on his way, you’re not going to make a trade now for George – or, if you do, you’re not giving up anything significant. That left the rental market, and you never know what you might get in return from an admittedly limited rental market. Cleveland? Sure. Houston? Maybe. Not a lot of options.
At the time of this writing, it is 9:12 a.m. Wednesday, and Paul George is still a Pacer. Now, by the time I get to the end of this column, he may very well be a Laker, or a Cavalier, or a Rocket or a Blazer. I was up until 2 a.m. Tuesday night, trying to flesh out trade rumors, checking Twitter for the next Woj Bomb to drop on my timeline.
And so we sit and watch and refresh and scroll.
Rinse, repeat…and wait.