Even after landing a coveted poker chip in the form of a No. 2 draft pick, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson did not allow that prize to add an extra tint to his purple-and-gold colored glasses regarding free agency.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be a major player this year,” Johnson said after the NBA draft lottery in May. “I’m really looking forward to next summer.”
This past weekend, the Lakers have a mix of optimism and uncertainty on those feelings. The Vertical reported that Indiana star forward Paul George informed the Pacers through his agent, Aaron Mintz, that he plans to opt out of his contract following the 2017-18. Instead, George has aspirations to join the Lakers, which also features some of Mintz’s other clients, including guard D’Angelo Russell and forward Julius Randle.
That explains Johnson’s optimism about next summer. The Lakers resisted trading away their young assets before the Feb. 21 trade deadline, mindful that acquiring George then could come at the expense of nurturing a growing roster around him. George, according to those familiar with his thinking, worried about the same thing.
Yet, George’s recent conversation with the Pacers could complicate his picture wearing a purple and gold uniform.
On one hand, the Lakers have not offered any indication they would make a deal for George for any of their young players since they would have enough cap space to sign him anyway in 2018. On the other hand, the Lakers’ patience may not become a virtue. The Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly have had trade discussions with Indiana, hoping a one-year rental on a championship-caliber roster could entice him to stay longer.
George, who grew up in Palmdale and idolized former Lakers star Kobe Bryant, offers several qualities that would make his purple and gold uniform glitter.
The four-time NBA All-Star averaged 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals for Indiana this season. He would mark the Lakers’ the Lakers’ first potential free-agent signing since striking out in recent years in retaining their own (Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol) and enticing star players (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Kevin Durant). And George has a close relationship with Lakers associate coach Brian Shaw after the pair worked together in Indiana (2011-13).