The Los Angeles Lakers are committed to the summer of 2018, hoping to put a ring on it down the road after proposing to their dream of a superstar-filled free agency. Paul George has been traded, but it’s not back home to the sunshine and bright lights of Hollywood.
George was sent to the plains of Oklahoma City, traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. That was the final haul for George. That was the package Indiana Pacers president Kevin Pritchard held out for.
And that, for the Lakers, is just fine.
Yes, it may hurt to watch Russell Westbrook and George highlights streaming down Twitter timelines and ESPN stingers all season. Mr. Triple-Double and George, two California products that have always enamored the Lakers fan base, are going to be a fascinating experiment for one season. Beyond that is a mystery.
This isn’t a chance to dominate the Eastern Conference with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. This isn’t joining forces with Gordon Hayward on a Boston Celtics team that just made the Eastern Conference finals with more assets still in the pipeline.
This was a hail mary from Sam Presti. Touchdown, but now the Thunder have to convert the two-point conversion over the next 365 days.
The Lakers are working on a razor-thin margin of error. The summer of 2018 needs to pay off in a big way, the team unwilling to part with something that could top the Thunder’s offer out of clear confidence in their chances of signing George. There’s also reason to question what the Pacers’ motives were in the trade itself.
By all indications the Celtics had what most would perceive to be more lucrative packages available for Indiana. Boston made an initial push for George at the trade deadline while Larry Bird still lead the front office, but the Celtics re-engaged with Pritchard again leading into the NBA Draft.
This is the kind of package Indiana turned down at the time, as detailed in a fascinating look into the Celtics’ pursuit of George over the past year penned by Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe:
But the deadline came and went with no deal, and the talks were resuscitated prior to the NBA Draft. At that time, a source said, Boston offered the Pacers three starters and two first-round picks, although the offer did not include the pick Boston will receive from the Nets next year, or the future first-round pick they received when they sent the top pick this year to the 76ers.
Eventually, a league source said, that deal evolved to become three future first-round picks and two Celtics starters. But it turned out that was not enough, either.
While that’s not the Lakers’ side of negotiations, it gives a fairly clear picture of the kind of situation Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka were dealing with. The Pacers did what they want like a Westbrook Jordan ad and settled on Oladipo and Sabonis. Life goes on.
The Lakers’ holding firm on their stance is a show of bustling confidence that George will be one of the players they sign next summer. Every single report points to the Lakers being unwilling to even discuss Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram in any trade for George, and clearly that was the case or the Thunder wouldn’t have been gifted an extra at-bat for its future by Indiana.
The Lakers’ path to George may have been decided on the moment Russell was traded, a long-play by the front office. The timing of the transaction remains a point of contention, but the reality is this: the Lakers were going to need to make that salary space at some point by the trade deadline anyway. The Pacers didn’t trade George to Los Angeles, so the next move was always going to be finding a way to dump Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng by the trade deadline in February.
Instead of building a false team that was going to be split midway through, the Lakers are now ahead of it. Ball was their guy, Russell was the price and free agency in 2018 is the plan. Getting a closer look at Brook Lopez isn’t a bad pickup either, not only to evaluate him as an individual talent, but to see how the team runs with a legitimate stretch big man as a whole. Winding up with a haul of Kyle Kuzma, Thomas Bryant and Josh Hart on draft night isn’t a bad sweetener either.
The turn card just flipped over and the Lakers believe they already have the best hand. Their plan is to take the league for everything they can once the river card that is next summer is on the table. The Lakers, by every account, weren’t even involved in discussions for George before he was traded.
“There were three concurrent negotiations going on. With Cleveland and Denver for Indiana, Oklahoma City and the Boston Celtics,” Adrian Wojnarowski said on SportsCenter early Saturday morning.
There’s no mention of the Lakers anywhere, and that’s the situation the front office has been selling leading up to this day in the numerous interviews given out over the past several months. They’ve also said they don’t intend to be “major players” during this free agency period, and after the gates opened the Lakers were barely even linked to players.
The message is clear, which means the vibe around the Lakers this time next year is going to be something to behold. It’s all-in for 2018, with an important season for the franchise to prove itself as an attractive destination.