George a perfect fit for the Pacers’ small pond
NBA fans are conditioned to believe the best players from the smallest or coldest markets want to take their talents to the bigger or warmer markets. No wonder. Hey, LeBron, D. Wade and Bosh didn’t conspire to play in Milwaukee, did they?
The Lakers in particular have tended to inhale whatever talent they wanted, sucking Wilt Chamberlain out of Philadelphia, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out of Milwaukee and Shaquille O’Neal out of Orlando. Even Kobe Bryant, coming out of high school scared off teams in the 1996 draft by insisting he only wanted to play in Los Angeles.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that fans in Los Angeles assume the Pacers’ blossoming star, Paul George, wants to play there, too. He’s semi-local to L.A., he’s comfortable in the spotlight and, oh yeah, he’s really, really good. You can’t blame them. They’re accustomed to getting their way in free agency, with the notable exception of Dwight Howard, although it could be argued that losing Howard to Houston also might fall into the “getting their way” category.
However, I don’t think they’ll get to see George trade his blue and gold (well, yellow, really) for purple and gold. It certainly won’t happen anytime soon, because the Pacers can lock up George long-term with a contract extension before Oct. 31, or, failing that, match any offer he receives following next season. The rule informally named after Larry Bird makes it easier for teams to keep their star players, and it’s helped the NBA maintain a reasonable degree of balance despite the desires of some stars to get to the major markets.
I won’t be at all surprised if George winds up playing his entire career with the Pacers, just as Kevin Durant is likely to finish his career with Oklahoma City and Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are likely to finish their careers with San Antonio. Certain guys are comfortable in smaller markets, and as long as those teams can stay competitive, they’ll stay. Reggie Miller was one of them. So is George.
I’ve written before of the comparisons between George and Miller, aside from the physical similarities, but they bear repeating now. Both grew up in smallish cities about an hour outside of Los Angeles – Miller to the east in Riverside, George to the north in Palmdale. Both grew up in close-knit, two-parent homes with siblings. Both grew up with an older sister who beat them in one-on-one games, tapping their competitive juices. George, as Miller did, looks forward to a broadcasting career when the playing wheels fall off. Both are comfortable in the spotlight, but enjoy a quiet private life. George lives about a mile from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He didn’t get a driver’s license until his senior year in college. His favorite hobby is fishing, because it requires patience and provides an escape from the day.
Does that sound like a guy who wants to live in L.A.?
And remember this. He roots for underdogs, and identifies with them. Although he grew up a fan of Kobe Bryant, and rooted for the Lakers over the Pacers in the 2000 NBA Finals, his favorite team was the Clippers. He would rather be the marquis player on an underdog type of team — as Miller was — than another star on an elite team.
George has the persona of a one-team player, assuming he remains comfortable with the Pacers’ direction. For now at least he’s in the perfect place, and he knows it. He doesn’t have to be the leader (David West handles that). He doesn’t have to carry too much of the scoring burden (a balanced offense takes care of that). He can play aggressive perimeter defense without fear of getting beat off the dribble (Roy Hibbert has his back). He merely has to work on becoming the most complete player he can become – a “baller,” as he likes to say.
Bottom line: The Pacers are as perfect for Paul George as he is for them. For the next few seasons, at least. It’s difficult to find these kind of marriages in the NBA, but they are priceless. Miller knows all about that.