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Why the Lakers should trade for Paul George before he hits free agency

A bird in the hand and such.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Many believe the definition of insanity is the repetition of the same action with the hopes of a different result. The Los Angeles Lakers have hoped to lure free agents tied however indirectly to the franchise and, as detractors love to point out, they’ve whiffed on all of them.

Now that the Lakers are looking at someone with legitimate ties and reported interest in coming to Los Angeles in free agency, the consensus is to hold off on offering up assets for the future when in only a year, they could have him for nothing but cap space.

I’ll start by saying that is absolutely a fair opinion and one that makes a ton of sense if the Lakers have any intel whatsoever about his intentions come the summer of 2018. Of any of those potential free agent acquisitions who’ve been connected to the Lakers, George arguably has the closest ties and makes the most sense.

All this said, the Lakers find themselves in a fairly nice spot, but one that can easily be ruined by the wrong team acquiring George in a trade and him falling in love with whichever city that might be.

For example, if, say, the Boston Celtics wake up on draft day and realize using all 317 of their draft picks puts their roster in a bit of a bind, they could very easily entice the Pacers into sending them a star much like Danny Ainge shafted the Lakers sided with Kevin McHale when it came time to deal Kevin Garnett back in the day.

No, I’m not still bitter. Why do you ask?

George was pretty clear in his reported preference. He wants to compete for a title in Indiana or play closer to home in Los Angeles. All that could change if he finds himself competing for a title in any of the NBA’s other 28 cities between now and when he has to make what so many consider a forgone conclusion.

George also stands to earn quite the pay raise this summer if he makes an All-NBA team either this year or next, and as much as he’d love to play in his hometown, $40 million per year is pretty hard to turn down. If Paul doesn’t earn that honor this year, you’d better believe he’ll be on a mission to get there next.

So, between the risk of losing George to another team either via a trade they can’t control or because of an extension they cannot match, the Lakers absolutely should be looking closely at their assets as this season comes to a close.

Because George has such a clearly reported preference, Magic Johnson would have plenty of leverage to hold over his old rival in a trade negotiation. George could tell all other teams that he would only re-sign in Los Angeles and really put Bird in a bind.

As we saw with DeMarcus Cousins, any team that trades for George does so at the risk of irking him because of the potential money he’d be losing as a result of the trade.

Agents obviously cannot do anything for their client if a team is willing to make that gamble as New Orleans was, but you’d better believe that’ll come back up when Cousins is a free agent at the end of next season, just as it would if George gets traded — and that’s if he doesn’t make the aforementioned declaration of his intentions in free agency.

If George’s agent threatens teams like Cousins’ did, the asking price from Indiana will have to drop, making it all the more possible for the Lakers to acquire him while keeping talent to surround him with when he gets to L.A. or assets to send out and bring in more immediate help should he request it.

Bird owes nothing to George, even if the latter requests that he be sent out West. His loyalty is to the Pacers organization and, if another team offers more than the Lakers are willing to despite George’s threats to bold in free agency, it isn’t up to Bird to abide by some moral code based on George’s service to Indiana.

Basically it comes down to this: Yes, the smarter move in a vacuum is to hold out and hope George’s interest in playing for the team he grew up idolizing is legitimate.

Problem is: These things don’t occur in vacuums.

The Lakers have placed their eggs solely in free agency and the draft for the last four years and — fair or not — look where that got Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.

This isn’t to say the Lakers should gut their roster for him as the Knicks did for Carmelo Anthony. This is more to point out the middle ground between doing that and refusing to consider a deal when a player of George’s talent becomes available.

If Bird is willing to part with George for Jordan Clarkson, the Lakers pick (should they keep it, obviously) and enough salary to take on Monta Ellis because of the leverage covered extensively in this article, Johnson and the rest of the front office would have to seriously consider that trade. Not doing so would be, well, insane.

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