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NBA Free Agency Rumors: Paul George has told the Pacers he wants to sign with the Lakers in 2018

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He isn’t forcing a trade, however.

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

Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George may be publicly saying that he doesn’t plan to get traded this season, but it sounds like that doesn’t mean he isn’t packing his bags.

George “has informed the Indiana Pacers that he plans to become a free agent in the summer of 2018 and will leave the franchise – preferably for the Los Angeles Lakers,” according to Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical.

There have been rumors about George’s interest in a homecoming to Southern California and the Lakers all season, but this is the most solid sign yet that such a move is more of an inevitability than just a pie-in-the-sky possibility.

But with George saying he doesn’t expect to be traded now, what changed behind the scenes? Well, according to Wojnarowski, George and his camp were just trying to give the Pacers a chance to plan for life without him rather than blindsiding them next summer:

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.

George can sign a four-year deal worth as much as $130 million with Los Angeles next year. George is a Southern California native and playing for the Lakers would represent a homecoming for him.

George plans to play out the 2017-18 season with Indiana, but wants to give the organization the chance to plan appropriately for its future – which George told the team won’t include him, league sources said.

Wojnarowski writes that this will put pressure on the Pacers to make a deal with the Lakers for George so that they can get something back for their outgoing All-Star, but George’s now even more public preference to join the Lakers in free agency without them losing assets would seem to massively deflate Indiana’s leverage in any deal.

The Lakers could theoretically consider giving up one or two assets in order to get George in their uniform sooner, but they almost certainly won’t feel compelled to give up a king’s ransom if George wants to join them next summer anyway.

We’ll surely have more on this as it develops, but between keeping their No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and this news, this is shaping up to be a very good offseason for Los Angeles.

Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.