Paul George's current complicated relationship with the Pacers

Paul George and the Indiana Pacers have an interesting relationship in the year 2024.

Indiana Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton, Paul George
Indiana Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton, Paul George / Dylan Buell/GettyImages
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Paul George and the Indiana Pacers have perhaps had the most bittersweet relationship in Pacers history. Ever since his departure in 2017, which was filled with a cloud of smoke and mirrors, Pacers fans have had very polarizing opinions on the superstar.

Some still despise him for how he left Indiana behind, calling him a traitor and quitter on the team, while others take the more sympathetic route and look at the bigger picture, noticing how poorly constructed the teams around him were and understanding that he couldn't win much with them. In recent years, public opinion has shifted from the former to the latter.

What first started as universal disdain and mockery of George's decision to bolt from Indy has now become more understandable in recent years after understanding just how much Larry Bird and the Pacers front office failed him in his final three years with the team.

Of course, with the All-Star Weekend in Indiana, George's old stomping grounds, there were bound to be some fireworks still flying, and indeed there were.

Before the festivities, George made some noise as whispers crept up yet again of his possible desire to return to Indiana to finish out his career. Currently, the Clippers and George have not agreed to an extension yet, despite Kawhi Leonard signing one recently, and George has remained vague on how far extension talks are with the team.

This being the case, coupled with George's constant love for Indiana and the growing Pacers squad that looks poised to compete for a championship with one last big piece, rumors started circulating again of George's potential desire to become a Pacer again if an extension could not be worked out with the Clippers.

Of course, the Pacers would not have enough cap space to sign George outright, as he would require north of $30 million to lure away, but if they wanted, they could construct a sign-and-trade to get the star to Indiana while keeping their most valuable assets such as Tyrese Haliburton and Pascal Siakam.

George also noted that while he would like his jersey to be retiredytl.6 by Indiana, he is unsure if this would ever happen, noting the rather strict criteria for a Pacers player's jersey to be retired.

Indeed, outside of Reggie Miller and Bill Russell (lifetime achievement award), every Pacer whose jersey hangs in the rafters of Gainsbridge Fieldhouse was an ABA legend who helped lead the team to at least one of three ABA titles.

George, on the other hand, was a Pacer for seven years, and while he led the team to two conference finals, this may not be enough given the rather strong criteria to have your jersey retired as a Pacer.

This takes us to All-Star Weekend 2024, where things got interesting. On Saturday morning, as the All-Stars were being introduced, people were reporting hearing some boos for George from the Indiana faithful. However, this didn't sound like the case once you listened closely; in fact, you could even hear a fan throw a "Welcome back!' in there.

While some fans still booed, the reception sounded like mostly cheers for the former Pacers star, and these reports of boos seemed like they came from people who were scared of a potential George reunion with the Pacers.

This was amplified a day later at the All-Star introductions right before the game, as once again, George was not booed by the Pacers crowd but rather cheered, with less boos being heard this time.

Overall, it seems like the reception for Paul George from Pacers fans has largely softened over the years. As this young Pacers team becomes more and more competitive, it feels silly booing an old superstar who tried his best despite the rather high baggage the franchise gave him.

This is even more the case since George regularly sings his praises about Indiana both on his podcast and off it, recently claiming that Indiana 'found their guy' when talking about Tyrese Haliburton, who he has had on his podcast plenty of times, including recently.

Perhaps things would be different if George was bitter about his Indiana tenure, but this is certainly not the case. In fact, he somewhat took Tyrese Haliburton under his wing as the next Indiana star, pointing out food spots in the arena and other places of interest when Haliburton asked him.

One could only imagine what a current Paul George would be like with a duo of Haliburton and Siakam, and perhaps we don't have to wait much longer to see this trio in action.

While the Clippers are currently surging and near the top of the West, anything can happen in the playoffs. If their history repeats itself and another early playoff flame-out is on the cards, there is a legitimate chance George grows frustrated enough to skip out on an extension and find his way to Indiana.

If the Pacers wanted to, they could offer a decent sign-and-trade package to get the Clippers some value back in return while retaining most of their original core. After all, to get a star like George, you will have to give something up, especially with Haliburton's looming extension kicking in and Siakam's inevitable new contract.

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Return or not, George's relationship with the Pacers and Pacers fans is an interesting one. Unless he makes a return or completely trashes the team and state, don't expect the reaction to fully sway in one direction or the other. For now, some fans cheer, other fans boo, and others, myself included, eagerly anticipate the return of PG13 in his rightful home of Indiana.