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Paul George trade rumors mean the Pacers must start from scratch next summer

It’s time to start over.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Indiana Pacers - Game Four Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

After a season’s worth of speculation as to where Paul George will end up via his looming 2018 free agency, he’s cleared the air. George informed the Pacers he will not re-sign in Indiana next summer, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Instead, he will become an unrestricted free agent, and many believe his preferred destination is the Los Angeles Lakers.

George grew up in Palmdale, Calif., just outside of the city of Los Angeles. He played college basketball at Fresno State, and one of his favorite players growing up was Magic Johnson. Suffice it to say his decision to play for his hometown team was expected.

But that’s not what the Pacers All-Star said a week ago when spotted at the Caroline Symmes Memorial Celebrity Softball Challenge in Indianapolis. A reporter asked George straight-up whether he wanted to stay in Indiana or not, according to Vigilant Sports. His response:

“Of course. Again, what I’ve always been preaching more so than you see now, is having guys that I can win with, and are wanting to win. It came from the heart, I’m very sincere on wanting to bring that to Indiana. That’s where my heart is always going to be at.”

It’s an awkward scenario to be in.

Indiana is the franchise the drafted George No. 10 overall in 2010. It’s the team that helped develop him into an All-Star. It’s the team that gave George the keys Danny Granger once held as team captain, and it’s the team that signed him to a five-year max deal in 2013 just before a gruesome right leg injury could have claimed his career.

But Paul George has echoed the same sentiments for a long time. He wants to win in Indiana, not lose, and if the Pacers could have put some talent alongside him to inch closer to those championship aspirations, maybe his looming decision could have been tougher.

Instead, George has been flanked by Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Thaddeus Young, and Myles Turner. The Pacers’ starting five is talented, but leaves much to be desired, especially in today’s pace-and-space NBA. That team wasn’t good enough to get a game against LeBron James, and there’s no feasible pathway for Indiana to get better this summer.

The Pacers attempted to get George some help at the trade deadline. They reportedly made runs at Jahlil Okafor and Brook Lopez, but neither of those players made their ways to Indiana. The Pacers then looked at potentially flipping George at the deadline, potentially to Boston for the No. 1 overall pick and a few of their young players.

Boy, does that trade sound incredible right about now.

The Pacers had an opportunity to move George at the deadline. They balked. Now, they’ve got no choice but to sit with their tails between their legs and sop-up the best offer a team puts together for a one-year rental.

The Jazz got lucky once before. Utah was able to deal Deron Williams to the Nets just before they relocated to Brooklyn and right before they pulled off one of the worst trades in history for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Pacers may be able to find a suitor like those Nets of the past.

If not, Indiana will watch George’s $19 million salary come off the books next summer. As will potentially the contracts on Young, Ellis, and Al Jefferson. In total, the Pacers only have $4 million in guaranteed salaries committed for 2018.

The Pacers will likely extend Turner to a deserving max contract. They may be able to sign a few low-level free agents along the way, but George’s departure signals a total rebuild for a once-storied franchise.

And now, for GM Kevin Pritchard, the task at hand shifts from finding talent to put around George to building a championship contender from scratch. And if the Pacers couldn’t build one with an All-Star at its disposal, it’ll be worlds tougher to start with a blank canvass.