Paul George has made it official, according to a report.
George wants to come home.
Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical reported that George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, has told Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard that he plans to opt out of his contract after the 2017-18 season. Further, George let it be known that he would like to sign with the Lakers in free agency. The report added that George’s motivation for disclosing this to Pritchard was to allow the Pacers to plan for a future without him.
It’s been a long time since a talented player has been so intent on playing for the Lakers.
In the past few years they whiffed on LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan and Greg Monroe. They couldn’t even get a meeting with Kevin Durant last summer.
“That was something that I didn’t recognize,” Lakers President and co-owner Jeanie Buss said. “That wasn’t anything we’d gone through before. It hurt. It hurt that there were players that didn’t see what a great opportunity it would be to play for a premiere sports team in the best market with the best fans in a top three building in the league. It just didn’t make any sense. It was a disappointment. But I think I guess we’ll see how things go.”
She overhauled the Lakers’ front office on Feb. 21, replacing General Manager Mitch Kupchak with Rob Pelinka and replacing her brother, who was the executive vice president of basketball operations, with Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations. Since the start of their tenure, they’ve said they have felt the tide turning.
That projected No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz was willing to work out for the Lakers felt, inside the building, like a sign that the Lakers were once again an attractive destination for stars. George’s declaration offers heavier proof.
George grew up in Palmdale, a fan of the Lakers and especially Kobe Bryant.
At the trade deadline, George made no secret that the Lakers piqued his interest. It might have scared away some potential suitors, but then-Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird told The Times he was not motivated to move George at the deadline. Johnson briefly discussed it with Bird, but that conversation never advanced past a preliminary stage.
Bird stepped down from the role this spring, seemingly paving the way for moving George. What also might have helped lubricate the situation was that George did not make an All-NBA team this year, making it unlikely he will qualify for a supermax extension, worth more than $200 million, after next season.
The stark truth, though, is that any team except the Lakers would likely only be getting George on a one-year rental. It’s a fact that could depress the trade market for him, to the Lakers’ advantage.
Mintz is also the agent for Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell and forward Julius Randle.
Then again, if George will come to Los Angeles in free agency, there might be more sense in simply waiting until then.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli