The Los Angeles Lakers’ decision not to pull a trigger for a trade in 2017 ultimately may have shaped NBA history.
That summer, Paul George requested a trade from the Indiana Pacers and was reportedly hell-bent on forcing his way to his hometown Lakers. No agreement between the two teams could be reached, however, as the Lakers opted to hold on to their assets (namely Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball) and attempt to sign the Palmdale native as a free agent the following year.
What followed is well-known. George was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder and re-signed with them without giving the Lakers a meeting. After playing through one year of his new contract, he requested a trade to the LA Clippers to team up with Kawhi Leonard and rival the Lakers’ own dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
George, however, seems to be rewriting the script as he told ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk that his first choice in 2017 was actually a trade to the San Antonio Spurs who still employed Leonard at the time.
When the All-Star forward informed the Indiana Pacers that he wanted to be traded, reports came out that he wanted to return home and be moved to the Los Angeles Lakers. But George had another team on top of his wish list.
“I wanted to be traded to San Antonio,” George says. “We wanted to go to San Antonio first, and we didn’t make that happen.”
The Spurs, of course, did not have the high level assets required to make that trade happen. Youngmisuk confirms that there were discussions between San Antonio and Indiana but nothing materialized.
It’s still very difficult to believe that the Spurs were George’s first option, however, due to a variety of verifiable facts.
Leonard played a total of nine games in the 2017-18 season before forcing his way out of San Antonio. And while the extent of his injury was under wraps or unknown, it was already a concern; Leonard missed the first 27 games of that season before attempting his short comeback. For as much as Leonard and George planned their move to the Clippers, one would assume that issue was discussed during the 2017 offseason.
Even ignoring the three-part miniseries George produced to document his 2018 free agency in which he talked about his dreams of donning the purple and gold, it was clear that there was strong mutual interest in getting George to the Lakers. Team president Magic Johnson even attracted a hefty tampering charge in that process.
George goes on to say that the Lakers unwillingness to trade for him was “in the back of my mind” as he made his free agency decision. Not only does that imply a complete lack of awareness at how the NBA trade market works, it seemingly contradicts his quote in the same story that he felt “obligated” to re-sign with the Thunder for a year but had planned on teaming up with Leonard ever since he arrived in OKC.
George’s comments are quintessentially Paul George. They contradict each other while giving lip service to the people he needs to please in this moment (Kawhi and Clippers fans). George either always wanted to team up with Leonard and only re-signed in OKC to make his money and wait for Kawhi to be a free agent or he wanted to be a Laker from the start and was upset at them not doing more to get him even though it would have depleted the roster alongside him. He can’t have it both ways.
At the end of the day, Lakers fans are probably much too tired to keep talking about what could have been with Paul George. Ultimately, it may have worked out in the best way possible for all parties; the Lakers lead the league with a 12-2 record behind James and Davis while George’s invasive hairline has created another superstar duo across the hall.