The Los Angeles Lakers are expected to be big players in free agency in the summer of 2014. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are likely to opt-out of their contracts and L.A. is certain to make a run at both All-Stars. If the club can’t sign either one, though, they’ll still have some very good options.
Paul George is set to be a restricted free agent next summer and could become a top target for the Lakers. After barely turning 23, he helped lead the Indiana Pacers to a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals with the Miami Heat. In 2012-2013, he put up career-highs with 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.
It might be hard to find a better fit for someone to play alongside Kobe Bryant. George is a good scorer, but doesn’t have to be the No.1 option that Bryant is. Dwight Howard had difficulty sharing the spotlight with Bryant, and a superstar like James or Anthony could find himself in the same situation.
Signing George would also improve the Lakers chances of getting another max-contract player. Because he is a restricted free agent, a max deal for George, which he has indicated he’s looking for, would only cost L.A. approximately $14 million per season. With only Steve Nash under contract beyond 2014, that might give Los Angeles enough room under the salary cap to sign another star.
George may ultimately decide to stay in Indiana. He’s had a lot of success with the club since being drafted three years ago, and the team has a bright future with players like Roy Hibbert and David West signed to multi-year deals. However, George has admitted that he’s intrigued by the thought of playing his home games at Staples Center. The small forward is from California and lives in L.A. during the offseason. In a recent interview with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, George admitted that he’d consider going to the Lakers.
“Of course it would be tough (to say no to Kobe),” said George. “You’re talking about playing [at] home.”
Even if both sides want to make a deal, however, George might still end up staying with the Pacers. Since he is a restricted free agent, Indiana can match any offer that L.A. makes. Indiana has just over $45 million in salary committed next season, so giving George a max-contract won’t likely force them to pay any luxury tax.
If George continues to play at the same level, it would be hard to imagine that he won’t get the money that he’s looking for. Knowing that he’s going to get paid, George will likely want to play with the team that gives him the best chance of winning a title.
“I definitely want to win,” George said. “I want to be a champion. I want to get a ring. I think all of that should be in my future as an NBA player. I think that’ll be the case of if I want to leave or stay in Indiana. I think the only thing that will change that is who’s on the roster and who’s with me.”
Next summer, Indiana should still have one of the best rosters in the Eastern Conference. Depending on what happens in free agency, though, L.A. could be the place that best fits what George is looking for.