Pacers had a verbal sign-on from “best PF” to pair with Paul George, who was it?

The Pacers couldn’t do enough to keep Paul George in Indiana

The Indiana Pacers were at a crossroads in 2017. They had recently traded away George Hill and Danny Granger, and Paul George’s frustration with the front office and their decisions in how they constructed the team were clearly wearing on him. George’s patience as a star player was wearing thin.

George, the summer before he was traded, had committed to the team, and the commitment was supposedly mutual. That offseason, George had friendly discussions with players about coming to Indiana and joining him.

The star pairing was something George had long sought after, and something he was finally able to accomplish this summer when he teamed up with Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles. Before then, though, George was trying to recruit players to come to Indiana.

Paul George reveals who was supposed to join him on the Pacers

Speaking to Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles of the Knuckleheads podcast, Paul George talked about his departure from the Pacers and revealed his point of view on how it all went down.

At one point, George did want to stay with the Pacers, aiming to win multiple titles with the team.

After committing to the team, George had discussions with players around the league that happen every offseason. Preliminary chats about teaming up with other players in the hopes of creating a powerhouse.

George wouldn’t say who, but suggests that the top power forward at the time wanted to come to Indiana to play with George:

“I ain’t gon’ say the names, because I’m going to keep their business private, I’ma just say it like this. I had at the time, the best power forward saying he wanted to come to Indy and team up with me.”

The problem, however, is that Indiana wasn’t willing to pay out to get the player. As a small-market team, the luxury tax can be paralyzing, especially if players fall short of expectations or sustains an injury.

The risk was too high for Indiana to accept, and they wouldn’t sign the “best power forward.”

“They’re like, ‘we’re a mid-major, we’re a small market, like, we can’t do it, we’re a small market, we can’t afford that.’ I’m like the best power forward wants to come play here, like, y’all can’t make that work? They didn’t want to do it.”

George, somewhat understandably, saw the writing on the wall. He felt he couldn’t win with the Pacers because management was unwilling to make the requisite sacrifices to put the team and George in a position to win. George was great, but unable to get the team to a title all on his own.

“So I’m like, now I’m pissed, because it’s like, what am I doing here? You know what I mean? They don’t want to win. I’ve got the best power forward that wants to come play here. Not everybody chooses Indy to come play here.”

As far as who the player was, it would come down to probably Blake Griffin or Paul Millsap. Anthony Davis was surely the best power forward in the league at the time, but we were still years removed from his request out of New Orleans. It feels like it may have been a bit early for him to have that conversation with George.

While Griffin was on the trade market at the time, it’s more likely that George is insinuating Paul Millsap, who was a free agent that summer. Millsap instead signed with the Denver Nuggets and has been a strong professional there, averaging 12.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. All of those are declines compared to his numbers with the Atlanta Hawks before that.

Would Millsap and George have gotten the job done? Would that have landed the Pacers in an NBA Finals? It’s tough to say, and it largely depends on the moves the Pacers would have made around that. Being a small-market team, it is true that they would have been heavily restricted after signing Millsap, and likely would have been very thin in the second unit and around the margins of the starting five.

Hindsight is 20/20, but the Pacers have made out OK since the Paul George trade. Still, passing on a major free agent wanting to play in Indiana is not the best look for the Pacers.