- CLUTCH Summary: A different world exists where a mega-trade involving Kevin Love and Paul George, with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavs, and Indiana Pacers, actually happened.
- Hindsight allows us to know that the Pacers made the right move trading Paul George to the Thunder.
- As time goes on, how people appreciated Kevin Love at the time, has gone done.
Initially mocked by a vocal majority of league followers for the supposedly paltry return they received in exchange for a superstar in the thick of his prime, the Pacers enjoyed an All-Star season from Victor Oladipo while Domantas Sabonis rapidly developed into one of the more complete big men in the NBA.
George, meanwhile, had one MVP-caliber campaign during his stay in OKC, reaching heights that seemed impossible when he suffered a devastating leg injury four-and-a-half years ago.
Deciding the winner and loser of trades is required of many paid league analysts and a favorite pastime of fans across the league. Nearly five years later, the June 2017 swap between Indiana and Oklahoma City had seen quite a few movements. But if Pritchard had kept his word to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets mere hours before pulling the trigger, the trade would never have been able to materialize in the first place.
As LeBron James is now a Los Angeles Lakers champion, it’s instructive to go back and assess the factors that led to him signing with the purple and gold in the first place. Most easily forgotten among them? The non-trade agreed to in principle that would have sent George to the Cavaliers, just prior to him being dealt away to the Thunder and about six weeks before Kyrie Irving forced his way out of Cleveland to the Boston Celtics.
According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin, and Brian Windhorst, Pritchard, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations, backed out of a blockbuster three-team deal involving the Pacers, Cavaliers, and Nuggets at the last minute, putting in motion the events that ultimately contributed to James leaving his beloved Northeast Ohio for a second time. In the nearly-completed trade, the Cavs’ depth chart would have been bolstered by the acquisition of George, the Nuggets would have received Kevin Love, and the Pacers would have netted Gary Harris and future draft considerations.
The teams reportedly progressed to the point of agreeing to the deal in principle. Cleveland general manager David Griffin not only set up a meeting between George and owner Dan Gilbert, but also began planning his team’s approach in free agency under the assumption that George, Irving, and James would all be wearing wine and gold in the 2017-18 season. That’s when Pritchard called, informing the parties involved that Indiana was backing out of the trade. The Cavaliers apparently tried to re-engage the Pacers in discussions for George, only to learn that he was being dealt to Oklahoma City.
There’s no telling how the ensuing season plays out if Pritchard had honored his initial word. A big three of James, Irving, and George would have been considered the league’s best by a sizable contingent of league followers, and drastically increased the chances of several Cavs news bearing the headline of LeBron and Co. dethroning the Golden State Warriors the following June. There’s also no guarantee that the addition of George would have compelled Irving to rescind his trade request, nor that James would have re-signed with the Cavaliers the following summer rather than bolting for the Lakers.
Denver’s presence bears mentioning, too. Would Mike Malone’s team be nipping at the heels of the Warriors at the top of the Western Conference standings if they had swapped Harris for Love? Probably not considering how good the Nuggets are on offense as is, but imagining Love playing high-low and working the elbows with Nikola Jokic tantalizes nonetheless. Then again, no one would have been surprised if that frontcourt gave on one end as much as it got on the other.
One thing’s for sure: The Pacers and Thunder, and likely the Nuggets, are much better off in this existing timeline than the alternative. As for James? Not so much.