Welcome to the return of Lakers exceptionalism.
The phrase was coined by Tom Ziller of SB Nation back in 2012, defined as the Lakers’ ability to attract stars as trade or free-agent targets simply because they were the Lakers. Their storied history was enough, regardless of the front office, roster or coaching. In 2016, Ziller wrote that Lakers exceptionalism was dead, and he was right. The Lakers flubbed meetings with LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015 and failed to secure a meeting with Kevin Durant. The Lakers are not mentioned (yet) in discussions about Chris Paul or Gordon Hayward, with only murmurs about Blake Griffin as a possibility.
Unless the Lakers could prove once again they were a legit, they were no more special than Milwaukee or Memphis or Charlotte. Enter Paul George.
When trade rumors involving George surfaced at February’s trade deadline, there was a curious note accompanying the idea that the Pacers would deal the franchise star. USA Today was the first to report George wanted one of two things: to stay with the Pacers or be dealt to the Lakers. That was confusing because the Lakers were mired in a three-year run of franchise-low misery. Their roster is almost entirely comprised of guys who aren’t old enough to rent a car, and without a single superstar.
The word was George was open to staying with the Pacers if things turned around. They did not. A first-round sweep to the Cavaliers was frustrating. As George continued to make comments regarding his unhappiness, it seemed as though the team needed to flip everything or lose him. Then came the unexpected announcement that Larry Bird again was stepping down as head of basketball operations, which seemed to all but seal it. Since Bird cited no other reason for resigning, it’s plausible to surmise the Pacers were facing a rebuilding effort after George left and Bird wanted no part of it.
Now comes Sunday’s report that George and his agent have notified the Pacers part of that report on the matter from Yahoo Sports:. The fact his agent has notified the Pacers of this means Indiana was not in the dark. Let’s take a look at that
George hasn’t requested a trade before he can opt out of his 2018-19 contract, but did have his agent, Aaron Mintz, tell new Indiana president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard that he wanted to be forthright on his plans and spare the franchise any confusion about his intentions, league sources told The Vertical.
George, Mintz and the Pacers know he won’t re-sign, but with this information leaked, Indiana is left with almost no leverage because any team trading for George would know it’s very likely they could lose him to the Lakers in free agency. The Pacers will try and find a team willing to give up assets to rent him for a year, but getting the kind of haul a superstar should net is nearly impossible after George’s preference was made public (presumably on George’s behalf), effectively crippling the Pacers’ negotiating position.
Yes, there will be pressure on the Lakers to trade for George early to make sure they don’t lose a golden opportunity. But there’s already word the Lakers won’t deal any of their young talent for George. Remember in 2011, when everyone knew Carmelo Anthony was going to sign with the Knicks, yet James Dolan was so desperate not to lose him to the Nets (which never seemed likely) that he signed off on a deal involving two picks and four starters?
But Jeanie Buss isn’t James Dolan, and Magic Johnson is too smart for that. So it looks like the Lakers could get George for nothing other than being the team from L.A., where George grew up (He wasn’t even a Lakers fan — he was a Clippers fan. Go figure).
Consequently, the Lakers can go to other trade or free-agent targets, and tell them George is interested and they can join him. It opens up all sorts of doors. George could put L.A. back on the map and lead a revival of the Lakers as the kind of team that lands superstars. Of course, it’s also possible they can’t effectively build around George. Either way, the Lakers are about to be back in the headlines.
Get ready to recall what it’s like when the Lakers have the bright lights shining on them.