Paul George could put the Lakers back on the map if and when he leaves the Pacers – CBSSports.com

Welcome to the return of
Los Angeles Lakers
‘ exceptionalism. 

The phrase was coined by Tom Ziller of SB Nation back in 2012, to reflect the mindset that the Lakers would attract free agents and stars because of their storied history. The superstars of the NBA would flock to them, not because of their front office savvy, talented roster, or premier coaching, but because they are the Lakers, and they are special. In 2016, Ziller announced that Lakers exceptionalism was dead. And he was right. The team flubbed meetings with
LaMarcus Aldridge
in 2015, and failed to even secure a meeting with
Kevin Durant
. The Lakers are not mentioned (yet) in any of the discussions about
Chris Paul
this summer, nor
Gordon Hayward
, with only some light murmurs about
Blake Griffin
being a possibility. 

The Lakers had simply fallen back to the pack, and unless they could prove that they were a legit organization again, with legit stars and a chance to win, they were no more special than Milwaukee or Memphis or Charlotte. 

Enter
Paul George

paulgeorgefans.jpg


Paul George has informed the Pacers he is opting out at the end of next season.
USATSI

When trade rumors involving George boiled to the surface suddenly like a methane gas burst at February’s trade deadline, there was a curious note that went along with the idea of the
Indiana Pacers
dealing the franchise star. USA Today was the first to report George wanted one of two things: to stay with the Pacers, or be dealt to the Lakers. The news was confusing. The Lakers were in the midst of a three-year run of franchise-low misery. Their roster is almost entirely comprised of guys who can’t even rent a car, and none of them have the profile of a true franchise superstar. 

And yet, those rumors remained consistent. George was open to staying with the Pacers if things had turned around. They did not. A first-round sweep to the
Cleveland Cavaliers
was frustrating, despite Indiana somehow giving the Cavs the toughest challenge of any team in the East. George had made comments throughout the year about his teammates and how unhappy he was. It seemed pretty obvious that either the team was going to flip everything or lose George. Then came spring, and the unexpected announcement that Larry Bird was once again stepping down as head of basketball operations. 

That seemed to all but seal it. If Bird was stepping down without any other cited cause, it was most likely because the team was facing a rebuilding effort after George left, which Bird wanted no part of. 

Now comes Sunday’s report that George and his agent have notified the Pacers that he will not be re-signing in free agency in the summer of 2018, and that he “prefers” to join the Lakers. The fact that his agent has officially notified the Pacers of this means that Indiana isn’t in the dark on the subject. 

Now, let’s take a little look at that part of that report on the matter from Yahoo Sports: 

George hasn’t requested a trade before he can opt out of his 2018-19 contract, but did have his agent, Aaron Mintz, tell new Indiana president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard that he wanted to be forthright on his plans and spare the franchise any confusion about his intentions, league sources told The Vertical.

Well, that’s awfully nice of George and Mintz. The Pacers now know he won’t re-sign, so they can go ahead and carry out trade discussions to make sure they don’t lose George for nothing. How great is that? 

Except, of course, the part where this information was leaked, and the Pacers now have almost no leverage, because any team trading for George would know that there is a very likely, near-certain chance that they could lose him to the Lakers in free agency. 

The Pacers will try and find a team willing to give up assets to rent him for a year, but they simply won’t be getting the kind of haul you want in return for a superstar. The leak of George’s intentions effectively cripples the Pacers’ leverage. 

Now, do you think that after George notified the Pacers he wouldn’t re-sign, the Pacers then turned around and said “Oh, I know! We should leak this so that we have absolutely no leverage?” 

Of course not.

Whoever leaked it (presumably on George’s behalf) have cut off the Pacers’ leverage. Yes, there will be some pressure for the Lakers to trade for George early to make sure they don’t lose this golden opportunity. But there’s already word that the Lakers won’t do any deal involving their young talent for George. Remember in 2011, when everyone knew that
Carmelo Anthony
was going to sign with the
New York Knicks
, and yet James Dolan was so desperate not to lose him to the
Brooklyn Nets
(which never seemed likely) that he signed off on a deal involving two picks and four starters? 

Yeah, Jeanie Buss isn’t James Dolan, and Magic Johnson is too smart for that. 

Which means that the Lakers are likely to get George for nothing, just by being the team from L.A. where George grew up. (He wasn’t even a Lakers fan — he was a
Los Angeles Clippers
fan. Go figure.) 

Now, consider what this means. The Lakers can now go to other trade or free-agent targets, and say “Paul George is coming. You can get here first and join him.” 

It opens up all sorts of doors. We’re talking 
Russell Westbrook
(free agent in 2018), 
DeMarcus Cousins
(free agent in 2018) kind of doors.

And then, of course, there’s
LeBron James

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but with rumors that James could consider a move to L.A. after 2018, and given the free pass the 2016 title gave him with Cleveland fans, you can see a scenario where James forms another Big 3 in L.A. to challenge the
Golden State Warriors
. This is a pipe dream right now, not based in any reporting or indications and there are a million ways it could go haywire. 

But George puts it on the table, at least, where previously, it was off. 

Furthermore, this is a return to the idea that if you’re a superstar, you go to the Lakers. The Lakers are where guys go to win. The league has seen small markets establish themselves as competitive places and it had seemed that your ability to actually run a team determined whether you could convince stars to join you. But the Lakers have not done so; the previous regime was a disaster for the last four years, and the current one is a complete unknown with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. 

L.A. is back on the map, and Paul George could lead a revival of the Lakers as the kind of team that only settles for championship gold, nothing less. 

Of course, it’s also possible that they can’t effectively build around George, he’s on his own, and that the exceptionalism only extends to George. 

Either way, the Lakers are about to be back at the forefront of headlines, with a chance to return themselves to a place of prestige above the fray. 

Get ready to recall what it’s like when the Lakers are the ones with the bright lights shining on them. 

Paul George could put the Lakers back on the map if and when he leaves the Pacers – CBSSports.com