The talks come on the heels of a report that George has told the Pacers he will not be returning to the team in 2018 when he reaches free agency. Instead, Indiana has quickly moved to deal George while it still can, shopping him around the league with the hopes of getting a deal done sooner than later, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
It was Indiana that reached out to Cleveland, not the other way around, which might make a slight difference. But the point is they’re talking.
Ever since the Cavaliers lost in the 2017 finals — and well before that, to be honest — there have been rumors and demands that Cleveland trades for George. The 27-year-old forward is versatile defensively and has carried the offensive load for Indiana for years now.
However, George is also reportedly dead set on going to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018, something any team interested in trading for him — specifically Cleveland, in this case — must manage.
The two players whom Indiana is reportedly interested in are Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving, and right now, it doesn’t look like the team would make that trade for any price cheaper than that. That leaves Cleveland in a tricky situation.
Why Cleveland might hold off from making the trade
If George really wants to join the Lakers, and if he won’t take any other options, then the Cavaliers might lose him in 2018 as well as LeBron James. Rumors are already going around that James would consider leaving Cleveland when he also hits free agency in 2018, and one of the teams rumored is ... the Lakers. If the Cavaliers trade Love or Irving and George doesn’t want to return to Cleveland, then James is probably gone as well. If you keep the status quo, though, at least Love and Irving both are under contract through the next year.
That’s a hell of a gamble to make when the question is, “Can we re-sign LeBron James?”
Why Cleveland should trade for George anyway
George is exactly the type of player that the Cavaliers need. He’s a 6’9 two-way superstar, capable of playing sensational basketball on both ends. He has the versatility to guard any number of players, and his offense could be even better (or at least more efficient) if he’s no longer asked to be the primary option.
It’s exactly the skill set the Cavaliers need to have a chance against their only real opponent right now, Golden State.
Sure, George may want to go to the Lakers now, but that’s before the Cavaliers make what is likely to be a finals run in 2018 if they make this trade. It’s before George likely experiences the deepest playoff push of his career and remembers what it was like to battle it out in the Eastern Conference Finals, as he did several seasons ago against James.
That’s the question Cleveland faces: Do they care more about doing everything they can to retain James, or do they want to double down on creating another superteam that can challenge Golden State at the risk that it might all break apart?
It’s possible that if the Cavaliers wait long enough, they can get Indiana to lower the asking price. Love is probably an expendable piece when getting George back in return, but he’s still extremely valuable. In response to the Warriors’ superteam, the Cavaliers would love to add George without losing any of their Big Three. It seems unlikely to happen, especially since someone would probably trump an offer that’s, say, Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye plus future first-round picks the Cavaliers don’t really have.
But if Indiana would accept something like that out of desperation, then Cleveland would have to take that in a heartbeat.
The likelihood George goes to Cleveland
Let’s say there’s a 3/10 chance this happens.
There are two huge problems. The first is that Cleveland general manager David Griffin’s contract expires at the end of June, so the Cavaliers front office that is responsible for making this potential deal happen is actually in minor chaos. At the very least, they really aren’t sure what’s going to happen next, and that has to make their jobs slightly more difficult.
It seems like Cleveland is committed to Love and Irving for now given George’s unwillingness to re-sign in 2018, at least right now. If the Cavaliers can get a better sense for George and their ability to convince him to stay with their winning culture, then that might change. If Indiana lowers its offer, that might change. If LeBron James steps in asking specifically for the George trade to happen, it probably will. If none of those three things occurs, it feels like — at least right now — Cleveland is going to stay put.
Whatever happens, it appears we’re barreling toward a resolution at full speed.