Kudos to Los Angeles Lakers president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka. They get it.
Armed with the second overall pick, and with their ties to Paul George growing stronger, there will be calls for the Lakers to try trading for him now. He will be a free agent in 2018 (player option), but there’s no guarantee he’s dealt somewhere else that appeals to his long-term interest.
[The Lakers] are pretty confident and have a great deal of belief that they’re in position to get Paul George in 2018 whether he stays in Indiana or is traded elsewhere. …
They don’t have to give assets up to go and try to trade for him. In fact, I think they’ve been encouraged to do just the opposite. If Paul George is gonna go there he wants them to have assets, he wants them to be as good of a team as they can when he walks in.
This is a very smart stance. Landing George via trade will likely take two of the Lakers’ primo assets—those being D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and the No. 2 pick. If he’s truly committed to wearing purple and gold, there’s no point mortgaging part of the future for his services. Carve out the cap space necessary to sign him next summer ($30.3 million if the cap doesn’t change) and add him to what you already have.
If the Lakers are going to make a trade, it should be for a separate star—like Jimmy Butler—who vaults them to another level with George. That kind of consolidation makes it even less likely George passes on the chance to play in Los Angeles, and more importantly, it ensures the Lakers are even closer to contending once he arrives.
Things change if the Boston Celtics, owners of the No. 1 pick, decide to go all-in. But they’re smarter than that. George is essentially on an expiring contract. Any team, with the exception of perhaps Boston, will have to trade for him knowing there’s a solid chance he’ll leave.
The Lakers should play those odds.