Let’s face it. The legacy of the Indiana Pacers’ small forward and best player, former Bulldog Paul George, in NBA legend Larry Bird’s organization is now coming to an end.
In his sixth season with the Pacers, George has yet to overcome Lebron James in the playoffs. In his Miami Heat days, James and George battled with James coming out on top every time. This year it seems that George won’t be able to overcome the Cleveland Cavaliers, not just because of James and the rest of the Big Three (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love), but because of his inability to step up as the leader of the Pacers in crucial game-time situations.
George should exercise his unrestricted free agency in 2018 and leave the organization that saw enough potential in his lackluster college career at Fresno State to draft him in the first round of the 2010 draft.
George has grown immensely since entering the league, both physically and in terms of his performance, going from 6-foot-5 to 6-9 and increasing his average points per game from 16.8 in his final year as a Bulldog to 23.7 in the 2016-17 regular season and 30.5 in the postseason.
Even with a team-high 29 points in the Game 1 loss to the Cavaliers, the Palmdale native made it clear that he does not want the rock in his hands in pressure situations. He passed the ball to 5 point bench player C.J. Miles, who missed the game-winning shot.
More alarming is what George said after what should have been a Pacers’ win.
“I talked to C.J. about that,” George said. “In situations like that, I’ve got to get the last shot.”
George had the opportunity to take the possible game-winner, decided not to and selfishly blamed the loss on a player who saw an opportunity and took it.
After a worse loss in Game 2, George called out newly acquired Lance Stephenson at the postgame presser saying that Stephenson, a so-called leader for the Pacers, needs to control himself and improve his body language.
While George is not wrong, as Stephenson is known for being a blatantly emotional player, a public display of what could have been a locker room chat between George and Stephenson has turned into real insight into George’s woes in Indiana.
It is inevitable that what is said off the court during any series will affect the way the players play and the way the coaches coach. This is not to say that George is a bad person or a toxic player, but that his time as a Pacer is expiring.
Coming to a young Los Angeles Lakers organization in 2018 as a free agent under new president of basketball operations Magic Johnson would be the best move for Paul George at this stage in his career.
More importantly, though, picking up George would give the Lakers their first actual franchise player since all-time great Kobe Bryant retired last season.
Signing George would not be without risks, though, as he would be the veteran on the Purple and Gold dealing with fresh-out-of-college players without his same basketball mind in an organization that has not made the playoffs since 2012.
Even with an unlikely comeback over the defending champion Cavaliers and possibly representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, George’s time with the Pacers is, without a doubt, coming to an end.