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Paul George trade rumors are surfacing. Why would the Pacers even think of dealing him?

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The Pacers are reportedly trying to gauge George’s value, but why even consider trading their superstar?

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Sacramento Kings v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Indiana Pacers are gauging the trade market for All-Star forward Paul George, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski. George can opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018.

The 26-year-old swingman did not commit to re-signing with Indiana in free agency in an interview with ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, despite his team’s ability to offer a lucrative five-year, $219 million deal next season should he make an All-NBA team.

"As I told (team president Larry Bird), I always want to play on a winning team. I always want to be part of a team that has a chance to win it [all]. That's important,” George told Stein. "Say what you want; I want to compete for something. It's frustrating just playing the game for stats or for numbers or to showcase yourself. Man, I want a chance to play for a chance to win a championship.”

While simultaneously gauging George’s market, the Pacers have been aggressive on the trade market searching for options to add firepower alongside their All-Star forward. Indiana has reached out to the Philadelphia 76ers about a trade for second-year center Jahlil Okafor. They have also been linked to trade rumors revolving around Brooklyn’s big man Brook Lopez.

Indiana is willing to part ways with its first-round pick in the upcoming draft to put talent around George. But if it cannot acquire a player to improve their team around him, the Pacers could move their star player before he enters unrestricted free agency.

Why would the Pacers even think about trading their superstar?

Because they’re running out of time to build around him.

The Pacers have gone through a lot of changes since George suffered a serious leg injury in the summer of 2014. They retooled this summer specifically, trading for Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young while adding Al Jefferson through free agency. The Pacers also moved on from Frank Vogel and promoted Nate McMillan as head coach in an attempt to play more up-tempo.

But their efforts to improve have been met with a rocky season. Indiana is 29-28 and in sixth place in the East entering the second half of the year.

"This season hasn't been (fun)," George said on Dec. 30, according to the Indy Star’s Jim Ayello. "It's been one of the most frustrating seasons I've been a part of."

If Indiana fails to add the requisite talent necessary to make a legitimate championship run — a run that must challenge LeBron JamesCavaliers, as well as the Celtics, Wizards, and Raptors — George could leave Indiana in free agency next summer. If that’s a serious threat, trading him now would ensure the Pacers get a fair shake in return for their All-Star forward, likely adding drafts picks and young players to build toward the future.

How remote is that possibility? If George makes one of six forward slots on any of the All-NBA first, second, or third teams, Indiana could offer its All-Star forward a “designated player” contract worth an estimated $219 million over five years. But if he doesn’t and declines to extend his stay, he could leave for nothing and put the Pacers in a scenario that has burned teams in the past.

George is from Los Angeles and, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, could return to his hometown Lakers team when his unrestricted free agency hits in 2018. Magic Johnson took over as Lakers president and has already traded sixth man Lou Williams to Houston.

Teams trading for George run the risk of losing the four-time All-Star to a Lakers franchise that will have the salary-cap space to sign him in 2018. The Lakers’ hiring of Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations will be an interesting twist to George’s free-agent recruitment, given that Johnson has been something of a George family icon going back to George’s childhood in nearby Palmdale, Calif.

The Boston Celtics have been in contact with the Chicago Bulls regarding a trade for Jimmy Butler. They have enough trade chips to make a similar offer to Indiana.

Why this still doesn’t make sense.

Talent is hard to come by, and George is the best Pacers player since Reggie Miller. Pacers fans have forged a strong connection to him over the years.

George is enjoying one of the better statistical seasons of his career, averaging 22.3 points (on 38.2 percent three-point shooting), 6.2 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game. He has come a long way since breaking his leg in a Team USA scrimmage in 2014.

Instead of flipping their best player for a rebuild, the Pacers could continue what they started and find impact players to bolster their lineup. Indiana has an impressive two-way center in Myles Turner, and Teague becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

If Teague leaves, Indiana is looking at around $30 million to sign free agents over the summer, though the brunt of quality players like Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, and Jrue Holiday are expected to re-sign with their respective teams.

So is this really going to happen?

The Pacers have prioritized getting George help over trading him and restarting. Moving their top talent would be a drastic turnaround from their goal of a high-powered offense set to make a playoff push.

That leaves Indiana with a 20 percent chance of actually trading its All-Star forward before his free agency in 2018. Sure, George can walk in a year, but the Pacers have trade pieces to potentially bring in a quality impact player.

Adding Lopez would make for a formidable front line along with Turner and George, and Lopez’s ex-Nets teammate Thaddeus Young. The same could be said about a deal for Okafor, a talented post-up center who fell out of the Sixers rotation as Joel Embiid emerged as a franchise cornerstone.

The Pacers have been on the market for a center, though it’s unclear how adding a big man will help their issues. But getting George some help is the first step to keeping him long term.

And it’s retaining George for the long haul, not moving him, that makes the most sense for Indiana.