Paul George Trade Wouldn’t Be Total Disaster for Clippers amid NBA Trade Rumors | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

Paul George

Paul GeorgeTim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

With the first round of the 2024 NBA draft taking place on Wednesday evening, the offseason is in full swing. One of the biggest storylines heading into draft and free agency week has involved the future of Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George.

The 34-year-old is still playing at an extremely high level and could become one of the top players on the market when free agency opens on Sunday. However, he first has to decide whether to exercise his $48.8 million player option for the 2024-25 season.

For the Clippers and their fans, George’s decision will carry a massive weight. Los Angeles created a star-studded core when it added James Harden to a group that already included George, Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard in November.

Had injuries not limited Leonard in the postseason, the Clippers—who lost to the eventual Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks in six—might have pushed all the way to the finals.

Presumably, the Clippers hope to keep the proverbial band together for next season, which would require retaining George and re-signing impending free agent Harden.

Reportedly, Harden’s future could hinge almost entirely on George’s decision.

“He wants to see if Paul George remains, how many years Paul George gets, because he wants to align himself along with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George,” ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk said on NBA Today (h/t Bleacher Report’s Doric Sam).

There’s been speculation, though, that even if George opts in, he’ll still be trying to find a new team.

According to
NBA insider Marc Stein (h/t Bleacher Report’s Andrew Peters), there’s a “growing feeling” that George will opt in and try to force a trade. According to Stein, the Clippers have offered George a three-year deal in the $150-million range, but George is seeking a longer deal.

In a vacuum, it might seem like George forcing his way out would be a worst-case situation for the Clippers. It would break up L.A.’s supergroup and could force Harden to seek employment elsewhere.

Yet, it wouldn’t be the complete disaster that it might appear to be at first blush. For one, George could simply decline the option and seek his long-term deal on the open market. He has the leverage to get the deal he wants, force a trade or walk because other teams are reportedly willing to sign a four-year deal.

“I have been told that multiple teams out there are willing to trade for him and offer him the four-year max contract that he’s not currently being offered by the Clippers,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on Get Up (h/t Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors).

Secondly, locking up George with a max contract would carry massive risk.

Los Angeles is already tied to Leonard after giving him a three-year, $149.7 million extension. Leonard is 34, and Harden is 34, Westbrook is 35 and Leonard is the youngster of the group at 32.

It’s an older group, and there’s no guarantee that it can stay healthy or continue playing at a high level for another season, let alone the next three or four. And if George gets the lucrative contract he wants and Harden re-signs, the Clippers are likely looking at being over the dreaded second luxury-tax apron for that timeframe.

This would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for L.A. to reload its roster if the current group falters. L.A. is short on draft capital, and second-apron restrictions will make it extremely tough to build through free agency or the trade market.

If or when the Clippers are over the second apron, they’ll be unable to aggregate contracts in a trade, send out cash, use trade exceptions from previous years or take back more salary than they send out.

It’s unclear exactly what the Clippers might be able to get in a George trade this summer, but i multiple teams are truly interested, L.A. should expect a strong return. That’s a lot better than losing George for nothing in free agency and a respectable alternative to betting everything on the idea that L.A.’s aging stars won’t hit the dreaded cliff.

Would the Clippers rather keep George—and, perhaps, by extension, Harden—on their terms? Absolutely. If they can’t, the opt-in-and-trade option is far from their worst.

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