While the rest of the world had fun roasting him on Twitter, Indiana Pacers fans were coming to grips with the impending aftermath of a blowout playoff series loss to Cleveland Cavaliers particularly on the future of star Forward Paul George.
In case he doesn’t sign an extension this offseason, should the team trade him or keep him for another year and risk losing him for nothing? Or should the team trade him immediately and build around the strengths and weaknesses of Myles Turner? How about keeping George happy in Indiana by pairing him with another top level player in Indiana?
As difficult as that looks knowing star players will want to eschew tiny market Indiana, it is the Pacers best bet to remain in contention for a title for many seasons to come and keep its star player happy. Chances are high the 6 foot 9 Forward will not sign an extension and subsequently move out of Indiana which per reports emerging from several sources point to Los Angeles Lakers.
Should he decide to go the Lakers, fans can feel betrayed by George’s repeated words of his wish to bring the NBA title to the city and his move would be basically a dead end to his career due to the perilous state of the Purple and Gold.
Unlike Indiana, who have made it to the playoffs for three straight seasons, the Lakers have missed the playoffs in the same span thanks to a rebuilding process that has youngsters D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle at the center of the team’s future.
There is also a major problem with competing in the Western Conference on an up and coming team. The Conference is too loaded with firmly implanted superpowers who look destined to stay at the top for many seasons. Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz have been built to outlive the peak of George’s career. Even very good sides like Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans are struggling to get into the upper bracket so a Lakers move would be wrong.
Despite getting knocked out of the postseason first round in two straight years, the Pacers are in a good shape to make good of George’s immense talent. In Turner, there is a genuine frontcourt superstar to pair with and Jeff Teague’s skill at the Point Guard position isn’t mind blowing by any stretch but the Indiana native offers a lot of experience and dependability as a third scoring option. However, the Pacers bench needs a major makeover to stay in games when starters go to the bench.
Until that time, Indiana will be way off the mark in making a serious case for contention. But would Paul George want to leave the only team he has been with in the NBA on a whimper? For a prideful player that he is, the answer is no. We got a taste of George’s pride when he openly showed his frustration about not getting to shoot the ball in the final seconds of the opening game of the series loss to Cleveland. When he got the chance in similar circumstances in Game 4 he air balled his shot setting the Twitter world alight with memes and funny skits of his miss.
To think the last image of the most impactful player in the team in recent times since Reggie Miller air balled a potential series altering shot would be a bad end to Paul George’s story in Indiana. His pride factors in here again as that miss and the overwhelming criticism it has drawn will stew in his heart all summer and push him further to dig deeper to be in the best shape to deliver on his promise or at the very least equal Miller’s high point of sending the Pacers to the NBA Finals.
That means dethroning the King himself LeBron James who is the greatest player of his generation and indeed one of the very best in the league’s history. James has been to the NBA Finals six straight times and is seemingly well on his way to a seventh but he and George have produced epic duels since the latter burst into the limelight in 2013. Until George beats James in the individual matchup, his path to that elusive realization looks bleak. Players and teams go through this experience where they encounter such stumbling blocks over seasons.
For James, it used to be the Kevin Garnett-led Boston Celtics and for Michael Jordan, it was Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys. One can almost feel the inevitable end should George outduel James in a playoff series. Interesting to know, once Jordan got past Detroit, Chicago owned them and a repeat of that is likely to happen should George get past LeBron James in the East. As the hours and minutes whittle down to trade season, Indiana and its star man are in one hell of a tough position.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter