After the Cavs swept the Pacers right out of the 2017 NBA playoffs, the Paul George clock started ticking.
The All-Star small forward and his current team have to make some tough decisions this offseason — and they may not be entirely in their hands. George signed a five-year, $91 million contract in 2013, but he has a player option available after the 2018 season that would allow him to test the free-agent waters. It's highly unlikely George takes that $20.7 million option, and that's why the announcement of this year's All-NBA teams means so much for the franchise.
All-NBA teams will be announced Thursday before the league's inaugural awards show June 26, and the votes from NBA media members may determine whether George is still wearing blue and gold. Here's the situation:
If Paul George does make an All-NBA team ...
George will qualify for the designated veteran player extension. A player qualifies for the DPE under certain stipulations, such as making one of the three All-NBA teams or winning Defensive Player of the Year or MVP the previous season. That player also must be on the team that drafted him or traded for him on his rookie contract. George making an All-NBA team would allow the Pacers to hand him a five-year deal worth more than $200 million under the DPE because Indiana took him at No. 10 in the 2010 NBA Draft. More importantly, it could give the Pacers an advantage of $70 million over what other teams are able to offer. Money won't be the only factor in George's decision to stay or go, but that is a lot of money to pass up.
If Paul George does not make an All-NBA team ...
This is where it gets more interesting. Other teams would be able close the gap on the kind of offer the Pacers put on the table, significantly reducing the odds George stays in Indiana. In this case, the Pacers' deal would be between $170 million and $180 million. Other suitors could give George a four-year contract worth around $130 million. Granted, that is still a fairly large disparity, but George's new general manager can give him another big deal in 2022 and come up with a strong pitch about him being the next great superstar of his hometown team (Lakers) or the missing piece of a championship contender (Celtics).
With players such as LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo at the same forward position as George, it looks like a long shot he'll make an All-NBA team, though a strong second half of the season may persuade some voters to push him onto the third team. Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson hasn't been shy about pursuing George, and the Celtics considered making a move for George at the trade deadline, though we don't know whether talks were all that serious. If the Pacers don't have the financial advantage, they may need to examine their trade options with these teams and their bevy of assets, as losing a superstar with no return can set even the most stable franchises back several years.
"The last thing that (Pacers president of basketball operations) Larry Bird wants," one source told Sporting News' Sean Deveney before the February trade deadline, "is to be in the position (Kings general manager) Vlade Divac was in (with former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins). The more focused you can be now, while you have time before free agency, the better your chances of finding a good return."
Bird has stepped down from his post, so a difficult decision could fall in the lap of new president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard. If he wants to make a move, he'd be wise to consider pulling the trigger sooner rather than later. The clock is already ticking.