Paul George’s bank account -- and by proxy his future in Indiana — may come down to 100 media voters deciding that he wasn’t one of the six best forwards in the NBA this season.
George was left off the three all-NBA teams, preventing him from receiving a major pay raise if he stayed in Indiana. It’s a tricky situation for everyone involved and it’s not George’s fault that he’s caught in the middle of it.
With the new collective bargaining agreement, which was agreed to last December, the NBA has added a “designated veteran” clause that applies to superstars on their second contract with the team that drafted them.
The 26-year-old George would have qualified if he was named to an all-NBA team Thursday. That would have allowed the Pacers to offer him an extension next season that started at 35 percent of the cap rather than 30 percent and went through the 2022-23 season. In actual dollars, that would have allowed George to earn about $70 million more over the course of the next six years by committing to the Pacers this summer instead of signing elsewhere in 2018.
But because he missed, the difference now shrinks to half of that over five years, and George can only sign that new deal after next season. That difference could determine whether he stays in Indiana or pushes to leave.
The requirements weren’t simple.
They were: being named to the All-NBA team the year before free agency, or being named to it twice in the previous three years. (Winning MVP or Defensive Player of the Year would also qualify, but George won’t win either of those this season.) George has been named All-NBA three times, but only once in the past three seasons.
This year, voting consiste of 100 media members — none who are team broadcasters. The six forwards selected were LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, and Draymond Green.
This was a tough spot for George.
George felt he deserves one of the All-NBA spots, and it’s hard to blame him.
“For contract reasons (All-NBA) is important. But I'm not thinking about contracts,” George told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst before the vote. “If my performance down the stretch lands me on the All-NBA, which I think I'm deserving of, then so be it. I'll be happy.”
George averaged 23.3 points on 46 percent shooting with 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He is an terrific forward in a league full of them, and while his surge over the past weeks of the season nearly helped, it wasn’t enough
This is a really tough spot for the Pacers.
Indiana reportedly shopped George at the trade deadline and didn’t pull the trigger on any deals. The Pacers were swept in the first round by the Cavaliers, but Myles Turner’s bright future could make it feel like George is more expendable.
Indiana’s reason for that is largely because they aren’t sure if George won’t just opt out of his contract (he has a player option for the 2018-19 season) and leave Indiana in free agency next summer. Without significant improvement from the team next year, there’s a good chance they may need to deal him, and probably for a lower price than was offered at this trade deadline.
If the Pacers knew they could offer him an extension worth $70 million more over six years than George could get if he signed with, say, the Lakers, they would feel a lot better about their chances to bring him back. But without that extra change, it gets a lot trickier.
This is a tough spot for the media.
As journalists, we’re supposed to cover the league from an informed perspective, but the way that this vote goes could change the outcome of the league. That’s not a situation that journalists desire, especially those voting on the award.
Situations like this are rare, although it did happen with Anthony Davis last year and happened on a smaller level with Utah’s Gordon Hayward, who also missed the team just before his free-agent season. Polling media for these awards probably make more sense than asking coaches or players.
Still, imagine George missing the team eventually causing him to leave Indiana, which alters the entire landscape of the league. That provided massive weight to decisions that were only originally designed to celebrate the top performers in the league.
Indiana did at least make the playoffs, though its visit was short. After all the dust settled, they at least have more certainty with their situation.
The Pacers could still re-sign George in the 2018 offseason, though chances are more remote now. That timeline hasn’t been snuffed out, especially if Indiana can keep improving. (Hi, Myles Turner!) Indiana could also resist trade offers for George this summer, hope he makes next year’s all-NBA team and offer him the same mega-extension then. But that’s a huge risk, because if he fails to earn that honor again, he’s that much more likely to bolt with Indiana getting nothing in return.
That’s why that extra $70 million would have made the Pacers feel that much better about their chances headed into 2018. Had George made the team, the Pacers would have felt less inclined to deal an All-NBA caliber 26-year-old anytime in the next 12 months.
Thus, George’s failure to make one of the three all-NBA teams is enormous news for the Pacers and the rest of the NBA.