HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Paul George‘s birth certificate confirms what everyone already knows: he’s a Southern California native through and through, something the Indiana Pacers’ young star is extremely proud of. But he couldn’t be more of a Hoosier if he tried.
From his relentless work ethic to his off-court sensibilities (fishing over, say, celebrity party hopping), George is the ideal face of the franchise in Indianapolis, where the excitement and expectations surrounding George and the Pacers for this season are already off the charts.
That’s what makes the reported $90-plus million extension George and the Pacers are closing in on prior to the start of training camp the biggest no-brainer to date. George couldn’t have found a better fit — an up-and-coming franchise for an up-and-coming superstar — and the Pacers couldn’t have found a better ambassador for what should be their most promising team in a decade.
Pacers president Larry Bird told Pacers.com that the deal isn’t done yet, but expects it to be soon:
When asked whether the reported terms were accurate, Bird said, “I never heard that number. I wish it was my number instead of [Paul’s].
Although a new deal isn’t complete just yet and George hasn’t signed on the dotted line, everything is expected to be resolved this week.
“I know Paul’s worth,” said Bird. “I’m not banking on what’s going to happen in the future, even though you do somewhat. It’s what he’s accomplished now and that what we’ll go off of.
“It’s always good to have the leverage but the number has got to be a number we both like. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about money. Yes, he wants to be here. He’s told me that a million times. We want him here so let’s just find a number that works for both.”
Bird, a Hall of Famer, completely understands George’s mindset.
“Well back when I played, if they brought me in and was talking to me, I wanted to get it done before camp,” he said. “So I know it’s important. Security is always the best thing to have in this league.”
With a new contract, there’s more to it than just the length and value of the deal. There’s all the legal items, player or team options, and more that goes into it.
“If you come to the number first, then all the other things sorta fall in place.”
I lived in Indianapolis and covered the team the last time the Pacers entered a season with a budding young superstar (Jermaine O’Neal), a deep roster and championship ambitions. Things are going to get even crazier for George at home than he probably realizes. O’Neal was a fabulous player then, and like George, was a somewhat underrated talent coming into the Draft. He outworked and eventually outplayed that profile and blossomed into an All-Star with the Pacers. The same is true for George.
A city and state that loves its basketball like no other has embraced George in ways it never did O’Neal, who led the Pacers to the best record in the league during the 2003-04 season. Pacers fans always seemed a bit indifferent to O’Neal, who had the misfortune of having to assume leading the team while Reggie Miller was still the franchise’s true face and Ron Artest was in the midst of his most tumultuous time with the franchise. Pacers fans don’t appear to have any such reservations where George is concerned.
They saw as George went toe-to-toe with LeBron James and the Miami Heat during Indiana’s run to the Eastern Conference finals last season. They saw George shine on the biggest and brightest stage alongside David West, Roy Hibbert and the rest of a rugged Pacers team that pushed the Heat to a Game 7.
They know that they have the genuine article in George, whose meteoric rise in three seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. His impact on this team last season, while Danny Granger was sidelined with injury, is well documented (courtesy of my main man and numbers guru John Schuhmann of NBA.com).
It’s a testament to the work Bird (as well as Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard) have done in rebuilding the franchise that George is stiff-arming the free agent process (and the lure of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers) that so many of his contemporaries would chase if they were in his shoes.
The best part for the Pacers is that they’ll have George locked up for what should be the prime of a superstar career. George is a true two-way player (not every All-Star plays defense as well as they do offense) on the short list that is headlined by James.
George is far from a finished product, another huge positive for the Pacers, and he understands that. He talked about it repeatedly in July during his time with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team and their mini-camp. How he and Granger co-exist will go a long way in determining just how successful a season the Pacers can put together.
But those are issues Pacers coach Frank Vogel and his staff will gladly sort through with George as the centerpiece of a team that should compete at the highest level for the foreseeable future.
In fact, none of those lingering issues seem terribly unsettling when you’ve got a perfect fit between a franchise and the (new and) true face of said franchise.