The Trade That Never Happened
Following weeks of intense speculation, the Pacers ultimately chose to keep homegrown star Paul George in Indianapolis for the time being. But how does this decision affect each of the respective teams involved, as well as the NBA as a whole? Let’s take a closer look.
Just three seasons ago, the Pacers won 56 games and made their second consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, they are 31-30 and barely above the threshold for a playoff berth. A lot has changed in Indianapolis in those three short years, but one name has not. Both the 2013-14 Pacers and this year’s squad include the same star leading the roster, and that star is Paul George.
However this year, amid a largely disappointing campaign following a very eventful offseason, that 6’9” forward was nearly shipped out of town. There were rumors all across the league about the potential to land one of the best two-way players in the NBA, from the Mile-High city of Denver to the lights of LA as well as out east to the historic town of Boston. Nevertheless, the Pacers decided to keep Paul George in Indy, and I couldn’t agree more with the choice that they have made.
Despite Paul George stating that he’s “hell-bent” on joining his hometown Lakers once he hits the open market in 2018, no team should ever trade away an NBA star in their prime, especially if the franchise has proven to be successful in the past with that same player leading the way. The only method of winning a championship in the Association is with a star, or two, at the helm, and finding one is far harder than the common fan may think. Even if Indiana managed to squander one of the Nets’ picks out of Boston, how sure can they be that the player chosen with that selection will ever reach the All-Star level that “PG-13” has been very comfortable in for several years running? In addition, would a package of young assets really help the Celtics build a title contender?
It is very rare to find an example of when dealing away a star worked out, and the reason for this is simple. Although units such as Indiana may be stuck in mediocrity, trading away George would place the franchise in an even worse position- they would become completely and utterly irrelevant. As bad as mediocrity is, at least there is still a minimal amount of buzz surrounding the Pacers, buzz that stems from the fact that they still have one of the best players in the league suiting up in navy blue and gold. But if George is gone, Indiana will lose all of that excitement and enter irrelevancy, a state where any of the least bit of care that people showed towards a team suddenly vanishes, and the franchise might as well become invisible.
An example of this occurrence was when the New Orleans Pelicans (known as the Hornets at the time) dealt away superstar point guard Chris Paul back in 2011. Although New Orleans was constantly ousted in the first round of the postseason with CP3 running the point, the team was at least recognizable across the NBA landscape. After the trade, though, they could have fallen right off the face of the Earth and few would have noticed. The unit instantly dropped to the cellar of the West, and the franchise thus became irrelevant. Yes, that torturous fall was rewarded with Anthony Davis’ draft rights in 2012. However, the Pelicans then simply went right back to where they began, with a superstar surrounded by little help (though the very recent trade for DeMarcus Cousins should make things interesting in the Big Easy).
Another similar circumstance is the case of Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Following Kevin Durant’s departure to Golden State, trade rumors were circling OKC and their triple-double machine. However, I was against the thought of dealing the athletic phenom for the same reasons that I just listed above. Although the Thunder would likely be glued to the middle of the West with just Russ leading the charge, sending him away would make the team worthless and give fans no incentive to watch or to care.
Yeah, I know, you may be questioning why franchises should supposedly prioritize their reputation over the possibility of building a roster that can contend for a ring. However, keeping a star rather than dealing one not only keeps the team’s notoriety in tact, it also allows them the best chance at an eventual championship. Paul George is just 26 years of age, and has nearly a decade of prime left in him. The best thing that Indiana can do right now is to attempt to build around the Fresno State alum, not to move him and start the road to contention all over again.
George may not be the same player as LeBron or KD, but with the right pieces around him he can lead a team pretty far, as demonstrated by the Pacers’ two straight visits to the Conference Finals a mere few seasons back. Additionally, even though PG has stated that he may ultimately spurn Indiana for a shot to play with the Lakers, it is worth the risk for the Pacers to keep him. Professional athletes tend to say a lot of stuff to the media that they don’t really mean, and their mindsets tend to change frequently, so there is no reason to dump a star away based solely on one remark.
Thus, not trading Paul George was one of the best choices that Larry Bird has made in the front office, keeping the Pacers relevant as well as maintaining their hope for a title in the coming years. However, some of the other teams that were involved in the PG-sweepstakes did not gift themselves the greatest opportunity to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and they may regret it pretty soon.
The Boston Celtics have been one of the greatest success stories in recent memory, as well as a terrific example of how to transition between eras. They won a title in ‘08 behind their core of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett, but that “Big Three” soon aged, and their window for further championships closed rather quickly.
However, after a bamboozlement of the Brooklyn Nets as well as a few other successful front office decisions, the Celtics are right back in the thick of contention. They currently sit second in the Eastern Conference standings and lie just 2.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers. Meanwhile, Isaiah Thomas is becoming a legitimate MVP candidate while leading the NBA in clutch time scoring. Despite the resurgence, though, their shot at defeating LeBron James and the Cavs come postseason time is quite low. Thomas has been great, but Boston needs more star power if they really wanted to make a case for a Finals berth this season. Basically, they need a player like Paul George.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were reportedly on “pins and needles” about the possibility of the Celtics acquiring a player of George’s caliber, and they should have been. Cleveland is the class of the East mostly because no other roster has enough elite talent to compete with an NBA legend such that of LeBron Raymone James. But if their biggest threat- Boston- was able to bring in “PG-13” to play alongside the already-blossoming Isaiah Thomas, that might have done the trick.
Nevertheless, similar to the NBA Draft of nearly a year ago, Danny Ainge came out of the Trade Deadline empty-handed. However, there remain questions of what really occurred over those final few days before the clock struck 3:00 on the 23rd of February. The Celtics did show interest in Paul George, but Indiana placed a heavy price tag on their prized possession, and in the end no deal was processed.
But were the negotiations halted due to the Pacers’ realization that they should keep their star forward at all costs, or was Boston not willing to give up the assets required to bring in the Fresno State alum? If Indiana eliminated the thought of dealing away George before the Celtics had a chance to respond to the alleged offer, then no blame can be placed on either squad. However, if it was Danny Ainge and crew who turned cold turkey, then they may have just cost themselves a shot at a ring.
It is no doubt that giving up three of Bradley, Crowder, Smart, and Brown in addition to the Nets’ predicted top-three draft selection is a hefty sum, but it most certainly is a fair price for an NBA star. The biggest piece that would have been dealt away would be Avery Bradley, a loss that would result in a void at the starting shooting guard spot.
Nevertheless, this trade would have allowed Boston to keep their top two players (Thomas as well as center Al Horford) in green while gaining a perennial All-Star in exchange. If a team truly wants to contend in a league that is currently being dominated by less than a handful of units, then they are going to have to take risks. Yes, there is always the chance that George and Isaiah Thomas don’t work well together and that PG bolts for LA come 2018. However, with their current roster, the Boston Celtics simply cannot contend with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Thus, a change at the deadline was a necessity, and the addition of Paul George would have been perfect.
But in the end, nothing did end up happening, and there isn’t anything that can be done now. Additionally, we do not know which front office nixed the deal first, so no fingers can be pointed or blame assessed. However, Celtics fans should still be disappointed at the lost opportunity to acquire one of the Association’s biggest names, as well as the wasted chance at an 18th title this June.
The main outcome resulting from the failure of this potential blockbuster is that the Eastern Conference will continue to run through Cleveland. If Paul George ended up switching rosters, especially to Boston, then the balance of power in the East would have dramatically shifted. The Cavs would have had some actual competition on their road to the NBA Finals, quite contrary to the relaxed beatdowns that have ensued the past few years.
However, George is staying right where he has been since 2010, and the Celtics will continue to ride the fourth-quarter heroism of their 5’9” point guard. It really is a shame that we won’t see PG matched up with LeBron just like we did back in those Indiana-Miami meetings, but I guess we’ll just have to make do with what we’ve got.
Maybe we’ll see a trade during the upcoming draft that turns every fan across the globe wide-eyed and shell-shocked. Or maybe we’ll see a free agent decisions that completely alters the league landscape. But for now, we’ll just have to wait out the next few months of basketball in anticipation for the same NBA Finals that everyone predicted four months ago.