Talk of Paul George coming to the Los Angeles Lakers is nothing new, but with the NBA announcing its first, second and third team All-NBA and George missing the cut, those rumors kicked up a gear.
The reason for the uptick in talk is that in the latest collective bargaining agreement, the NBA has created incentives for star players to stick around with their home teams. In the previous agreement, players were incentivized to stay with their team by being able to sign for five-year contracts with their current team versus four-year contracts elsewhere, and while that incentive continues in the new agreement, the league has added further financial incentives to go along with the added year.
In the past, a player signing a maximum-level contract with a new team left an extra year of guaranteed money on the table, along with taking a slight hit on an annual basis. This financial impact did not seemingly add up to being enough of a factor to keep an All-NBA caliber player with their current teams, so the NBA added an extra clause.
So, to allow for even more of a hometown edge, the NBA added an extra rule. If the player is of the elite quality, meaning he's on the first, second or third team All-NBA, the home team can offer a "Super Max" contract, more accurately identified as the "Designated-Player Exception."
How does a player qualify for this special exception, which can be offered as a contract extension or as a free agency deal? First of all, the player must be with the team that drafted him or on a team that traded for him while he was on his rookie contract.
Further, the player must meet one of the follow two criteria: 1. the player must either make an All-NBA team or be named MVP or Defensive Player of the Year in the previous season 2. the must be on an All-NBA Team in two of the previous three seasons or the league's MVP in one of the previous three seasons.
So, with George missing out on the All-NBA teams, he is no longer able to sign the Designated Player Exception, which could have been signed as an extension. This new addition makes most people think that Russell Westbrook, who qualifies for the new Super Max contract will stick around in Oklahoma City.
With regards to George, the Indiana Pacers could have offered George roughly $207 million over five years had he made either first, second or third team All-NBA according to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders. Technically, George could still make that list in the 2017-18 season, but Indiana is now sitting in a position where it could lose its most valuable asset and get nothing in return.
With George not making the All-NBA teams, the Pacers can still offer him an extra year guaranteed, so the Palmdale native is looking at a five-year contract worth about $177 million to stay at Indiana if he does not make an All-NBA team in 2017-18. Other teams can only offer George a maximum of four years at roughly $130 million.
So, in effect, the Pacers lost a great deal of their leverage over George by the Indiana star missing out on the All-NBA teams. Had he made the list, the Pacers would have been able to offer George the extension immediately, and if the forward passed on the bloated contract, one would imagine Indiana would have no reason to wait on a trade.
The same reports that linked George to LA in the first place, namely Sam Amick of USA Today, seem to suggest that the Super Max was never a factor in George's willingness to come to LA. Obviously, though, a $200+ million guaranteed contract extension offer would have tested George's conviction.
As a reminder, George has a player option on his contract at the end of the 2017-18 season, so more than likely, the Southern California native will be a free agent in 2018 anyhow.
As such, the Pacers will likely shop around and see what the 27-year-old is worth this summer while keeping in mind that he could effectively be a rent a player for the Pacers or most every other team in the NBA. And this is where the situation could get complicated for the Lakers.
If George is truly dead set on coming to LA, then Indiana would be wise to engage the Lakers and see what it can get back in return as other teams would be hesitant to fork over anything significant if they believe the player plans to walk to LA in one year's time anyhow.
However, the Lakers may be wise simply waiting an extra year and getting George on the free agent market in the summer of 2018, when the team will have contracts for Corey Brewer ($7.6 million) and Tarik Black ($6.7 million) expiring. Also, Nick Young is due to make $5.7 million in the final year of his contract in 2017-18, but Young can opt out ahead of the current season and joked that he would be a visiting player during his exit interview.
Of course, all that still doesn't take into account the Lakers' salary cap troubles with the big contracts for Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, who are making on average $16 million and $18 million per year, respectively, for another three years. Also, Jordan Clarkson is only through one year of his four-year $50 million contract, and LA is on the hook for paying the new no. 2 pick, should they decide not to trade the pick. Add in the lottery contracts of D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, and new Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka has his work cut out for him.
Ultimately, LA could use Indiana's expected desperation to move George and give the Pacers a contract or two that would make space that could allow the Lakers to potentially attract another marquee free agent to play alongside the four-time All-Star.
Or, the plan could be simply to create enough cap space independent of the Pacers to sign George in the summer of 2018 with the hopes that the young core of lottery picks develop into the star players that the Lakers seemingly have struggled to attract in free agency.
Either way, George missing on the 2018 All-NBA teams created a situation where he is far more likely to be traded and has far less incentive to stay in Indiana. With George rumored to be heading to LA in a year's time anyhow, LA now has even more leverage in any potential trade talks with Indiana.
The Lakers' path to landing George just became signicantly clearer.