Sure, he played in a small market, but so what? The All-Star capably led his team to the conference finals and, it seemed, to the precipice of the promise land.
Still inevitably, all good things come to an end, just like his tenure. And when the star forward thought of pursuing his career elsewhere, the bright lights and the big city came calling.
As it relates to Paul George and his requested desire to be shipped to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, the story of Rasheed Wallace and his desire to be traded to the New York Knicks, way back in 2004—it should serve as a cautionary tale.
* * * * * *
The rise and fall of the Portland “Jail” Blazers is as well-documented as their epic confrontation with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. What was just as well-documented, though, was Rasheed Wallace’s desire to sign with the Knicks in July 2004.
Money be damned. ‘Sheed just wanted to enjoy playing basketball again.
After it became obvious that a divorce was necessary, after seven seasons, the Blazers flipped Wallace to the Atlanta Hawks. Not wanting to re-sign Wallace after the free agent to be became a free agent at the conclusion of the season, the primary motivation for general manager Billy King and his Hawks was to allow Wallace’s contract to expire and for the team to be players in the free agency market. Had they kept Wallace and followed through on that plan, ‘Sheed would have taken his talents to New York City in July 2004.
But Joe Dumars came calling.
After spending the prior years toiling and seeing the New Jersey Nets win the Eastern Conference in 2002 and 2003, Dumars and newly hired head coach Larry Brown felt their team was one piece away from becoming NBA Champions. Dumars made the call to King and ended up securing Wallace for a package featuring Bob Sura and the draft pick that became Josh Smith.
Sure, trading for Wallace was a gamble, but it was one that Dumars thought was worth it. Despite Wallace’s affinity for New York City and his desire to play for Dumars’ former teammate Isiah Thomas, Dumars and Brown secretly conspired to change Wallace’s mind. Utilize his skill set, harness his emotional energy, support him and succeed.
Do those things, and then outbid the Knicks—they were sure it would work.
As fate would have it, in July 2004, Wallace agreed to re-sign with the Pistons on a five-year deal worth $57 million. In the end, the Knicks were left with nothing but disappointment.
In Detroit, Wallace had fit in beautifully and became the final piece of the championship puzzle. He would play out the duration of his contract in Detroit. Although Wallace eventually became a Knick, it wouldn’t happen until 2012, long after he had passed his prime.
In the NBA, there are no guarantees. In theory, Paul George’s situation could play out the same exact way, especially when one considers that the Pacers (or whatever team George is traded to) would be able to offer George a fifth year and an additional guarantee of $45 million when he becomes a free agent on July 1, 2018. Does he want to return home to Los Angeles badly enough to walk away from $45 million? Maybe. But does he want to become a Laker badly enough to both walk away from the money and a winning situation?
Doubt it. Winners don’t do that. And Paul George is a winner.
Here and now, Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka have the opportunity to add a 27-year-old stud who has already proven capable of leading a team to the conference finals. George plays both ends of the floor and has enjoyed a meteoric ascent that was only slowed by his well-documented leg injury and the regression of his team.
Having struck out on every big-named free agent they’ve chased over recent years, Magic has the opportunity to get one now and boisterously announce that the franchise’s days of ineptitude and swinging-and-missing are over. Emotionally and symbolically, Johnson’s return, a potential trade of George and the probable drafting of Lonzo Ball would immediately give the fallen franchise a shot in the arm.
For more reasons than one, there is something to be said of adding a player that can become a difference-maker for your franchise—even if it requires parting with an asset or two.
So why not just wait? Because a lot can change in a year, and in the NBA, a lost, floundering year feels like 20.
So why not wait? Because with George and a potentially drafted Lonzo Ball in tow, the Lakers would immediately cement themselves as a destination again, and Johnson would have the opportunity to lure other difference-making free agents to Los Angeles—this summer.
* * * * * *
On President’s Day in 2011, Carmelo Anthony became a member of the New York Knicks. There are clear parallels between Anthony and his exit from Denver and George’s decision to move on from Indiana, but what most in-the-know front office executives in the NBA will tell you is that, under the circumstances, trading for Anthony was the right move for the Knicks. Stars seldom want the attention and politics that come with being a member of the franchise, and when a star player becomes available, it’s only a matter of time until others come knocking. There’s a thin line between a player of George’s caliber being long-sighted and not wanting his future team to weaken its ability to surround him with good pieces and the player feeling that the front office of said team doesn’t value him because it isn’t willing to part with the pieces necessary to acquire him.
Hell hath no fury like that of the scorn of the man with a fragile ego. And NBA players have fragile egos.
As it relates to Anthony, where the Knicks erred was only in the amount of value they sent out in trading for him. Anthony, wanting to relocate to avoid the uncertainty of the then-pending lockout and his want for closure, did the club no favors by declaring the Brooklyn Nets a viable alternative. The Knicks got their arms twisted, and when faced with the possibility of losing a player that wanted them as badly as they wanted him, flinched. Under the circumstances, it was understandable. The Knicks just got the short-end of the stick. From talented players, to draft picks to cap relief—the Knicks emptied their cupboard for Anthony and ultimately left themselves with a dearth of assets to quickly surround him with a supporting cast.
With the Lakers and Pacers reportedly discussing a George trade, Magic Johnson has seemingly answered the question as to whether or not the Lakers would be content with letting the next year play out and potentially losing out on George.
That, without question, would be a gamble that likely isn’t worth the risk.
So, in the end, if you’re the Lakers, why not just wait?
Because there’ll always be a Joe Dumars somewhere. And 13 long years ago, he and Rasheed Wallace both collectively chipped in to help answer that question for us.
The Pre-Draft Basketball Insiders Podcast
Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA Writer Michael Scotto get into the 76ers and Celtics trade, the Lonzo Ball and Lakers situation, Paul George and the mess the Pacers find themselves in, the future of Gordon Hayward, some NBA draft sleepers, the guys whose draft stock could be falling, where certain players’ floor may be and who is and is not likely to be traded around the 2017 NBA Draft.
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