After superstar Paul George informed the Pacers in no uncertain terms he plans to leave the team, Indiana began shopping George’s services this weekend, including making a phone call to the Cleveland Cavaliers, sources confirmed to ESPN on Sunday.
George reportedly told the Pacers he will opt out of his contract in 2018 and become an unrestricted free agent.
George’s admission, first reported by The Vertical, prompted Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard to begin canvassing the league for potential offers for the four-time All-Star who averaged 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game this season. He upped that production to 28 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.8 steals in a first-round playoff loss to Cleveland in April.
The Cavs are willing to enter into trade talks for George without any assurances he will commit to a long-term deal in Cleveland, a source familiar with the Cavs’ thinking told ESPN. Cleveland is confident its championship culture and overall atmosphere could sway George to want to stay after playing out the 2017-18 season.
That said, there are only two assets the Cavs possess that would likely grab the Pacers’ attention in a potential swap (operating under the assumption that LeBron James is untouchable): Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
And to part with either the 25-year-old Irving or the 28-year-old Love, both coming off All-Star seasons and on relatively economical long-term deals, without any verbal commitment from George, 27, that he planned to stay in Cleveland beyond 2018 would be “hard” to agree to, one source familiar with the Cavs’ thinking told ESPN.
James has been an admirer of George for years, dating back to their battles in the Eastern Conference finals between the Pacers and Miami Heat. When the Cavs outlasted the Pacers 135-130 in double overtime in a regular-season game in April, with George scoring 43 points to James’ 41, the Cavs superstar recognized George with a post on Instagram.
After that game, James also referred to George as a “big-time player,” and when pressed further on his relationship with the Pacers swingman, he said, “We’ve got a really good friendship. I’m going to leave it at that.”
Making matters more complicated for Cleveland is the contract status of general manager David Griffin. He entered the 2016-17 season on a lame-duck deal after failing to come to an extension agreement with owner Dan Gilbert in the summer of 2016 while the franchise was basking in the glory of the first championship for the city of Cleveland in more than 50 years.
Griffin is still shepherding the franchise and fielding calls, like Pritchard’s, even though his contract is set to expire June 30.
The lack of resolution in Griffin’s situation with the NBA draft just four days away and free agency commencing in 16 days is starting to cause some unrest within the ranks in Cleveland.
“Insanity,” a source told ESPN of the Cavs’ front-office situation.