There must be something in the air in the Midwest that’s made general managers lose their minds.
Barely a week removed from witnessing the Chicago Bulls get fleeced for Jimmy Butler, the Indiana Pacers decided their Central division rivals shouldn’t have all the fun.
In a shocking move that took the entire NBA by surprise, Indiana pulled the trigger on a trade to ship out Paul George ahead of the start of free agency yesterday, ending their disintegrating relationship with the star swingman.
But it’s where the Pacers sent George and the meagre haul they received in return that’s baffling. After countless rumours linking the All-Star to the Los Angeles Lakers – his preferred destination in free agency next offseason – as well as Boston, Houston and Cleveland, the final destination was a mystery team: Oklahoma City.
Credit to Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who came out of nowhere to bag George for a package of Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and… wait for it… nothing else. That’s right, no draft picks were exchanged. Not even a measly second-rounder.
Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard wasn’t in the most enviable spot. The cornerstone of the franchise had made it known he was bolting next summer for the West Coast, thereby forcing Indiana to trade him despite having little to no leverage.
In a vacuum, netting a fairly young scoring guard and a big man prospect who was a lottery pick just a year ago isn’t a horrendous return for a player that already has one foot out the door. Circumstances (and reports), however, suggest Indiana shunned better offers and, if true, Pritchard may have cut off his nose to spite his face.
Boston, who undoubtedly had the best assets to pull off a deal, reportedly offered Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and three non-Brooklyn or non-Lakers/Sacramento picks. That’s not as appealing for the Pacers as a package centred on next year’s Nets or Lakers selection, but it’s still better than what Pritchard settled for.
That’s not even the point, though. Let’s just say this was the final offer put forth by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge. It’s well known that Boston want to first secure Gordon Hayward’s signature before trading for George – for both salary cap and philosophical reasons.
If you’re Pritchard, why wouldn’t you wait to see where Hayward signs and then, if it is with the Celtics, put the pressure on for a better haul, knowing George would complete their ‘superteam’ blueprint? In the meantime, Oklahoma City’s offer wasn’t going anywhere.
Celtics offer on draft night for Paul George, per league source, was 3 first-round picks (not the Nets pick next... https://t.co/ItE6PTulen— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) July 1, 2017
Instead, Pritchard either was too inept to weigh up his options or made a decision that wasn’t strictly based on getting the most possible for George.
Maybe he was put off by having to abide by Ainge’s timeline or his resistance to put his best assets on the table, or just wanted to exile George to Oklahoma, which is the antithesis of Los Angeles.
The bigger factor, however, may have been sending George out of the Eastern Conference so as not to strengthen a direct competitor.
All of these reasons are terrible and considering the Pacers may as well go into a full rebuild now, doing anything other than accepting the best possible offer is nothing short of a disaster.
It’s a weird way for this saga to end. Indiana didn’t have the foresight to trade George at February’s deadline, before managing to create somewhat of a bidding war among George suitors this summer.
After all that, they came full circle and made their life more difficult than it had to be.