Pacers President Kevin Pritchard speaks about the future of player Paul George, and the team's haul during the NBA draft, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Thursday, June 22, 2017. (Robert Scheer/IndyStar)
INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Pritchard hasn’t spoken to Paul George since last week at Victory Field for the annual celebrity softball game that was hosted by George.
Two days later, Pritchard received a phone call from Aaron Mintz, George’s agent. The message Mintz delivered to to the Indiana Pacers team president — that George intends to leave the Indiana Pacers as a free agent after next season — was grim. Since then, Pritchard has tried to position the Pacers’ future in the best possible direction with the understanding that he needs to trade George before next season.
After Thursday’s NBA draft, Pritchard acknowledged how he felt following that phone call from Mintz.
“For me, it was a gut punch,” Pritchard said. “It was a total gut punch because we had many conversations over the summer about players that we’d like to add, a little bit of a style we’d like to play. In my opinion, I was very inclusive with (George) and the message over the summer up until this weekend was, ‘Let’s build a winning team.’ When that came in that he wanted to look at another place, it was a gut punch for us.”
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The timing of the conversation with Mintz, Pritchard said, couldn’t have been worse with the Pacers in the midst of what will likely be one of the most turbulent offseasons in the franchise’s history. Similar to fans, Pritchard also said he, too, felt upset and disappointed with George’s sudden change in believing that the Pacers could be competitive in the future.
What Pritchard said he struggled with the most was how his conversation with Mintz was revealed to the public in a news report Sunday afternoon. The report, from Yahoo’s "The Vertical," also included that George intends to join the Lakers, his hometown team, when he becomes a free agent — a revelation that lowered George’s trade value.
IndyStar's Nate Taylor and Gregg Doyel discuss Paul George, who surprised Pacers leadership with his desire to leave the team. Draft night, Indianapolis, Thursday, June 22, 2017. (Robert Scheer/IndyStar)
“Becoming public was a big issue,” Pritchard said. “The conversation with his agent was very challenging.”
Pritchard, despite his disappointment in George, said he is confident he can complete a trade that involves George before the start of next season. The Pacers decided not to trade George on Thursday because Pritchard believes he can get a better deal later this summer, which could occur after free agency begins in July.
Before the draft, Pritchard engaged in trade talks with teams such as the Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Lakers. The Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers have also shown interested in acquiring George, according to several media reports. Many analysts felt the Pacers needed to agree to a trade before the draft ended to receive the maximum compensation possible for George.
Pritchard didn’t believe such a deadline was important.
“Everybody thought today’s date was a trigger date because draft picks were in involved, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do things into the future – future draft picks, players today, young players, older and established players,” Pritchard said. “We’re keeping everything on the board. There’s so much other stuff that doesn’t include draft picks that we decided to stay put and look at everything that’s on the board in the future. We’re not going to make a bad deal. We want to get what we want and that’s what we pursue."
Pritchard also said dealing George wouldn't necessarily signify that the team was beginning its rebuilding process. Pritchard said a win-now approach is still possible.
“We still can do that,” he said. “It may be a little more challenging, but we’re not afraid to do that.”
Pritchard acknowledged that whatever trade he agrees to will have a significant impact on the rest of the roster for next season. Jeff Teague, an Indianapolis native, is a free agent and could decide to not re-sign with the Pacers if George is traded for future draft picks and inexperienced players that will force a rebuild.
“Jeff has been terrific for us,” Pritchard said. “There’s a lot of scenarios where we’d like to bring him back, some that we may not. Jeff has indicated that he likes it here. We’re open to that possibility.”
If no trade is made this summer, George, according to a source, would still be comfortable playing out the final year of his contract next season for the Pacers. George respects Pritchard, former team president Larry Bird and coach Nate McMillan.
When asked about the fans’ anger at George, Pritchard said he understood their emotions and why many who support the Pacers don’t want to see George play another game in the team’s uniform.
“You’ve got to get past mad,” Pritchard said. “He has his own perspective of the situation and I tried to see that through his eyes. I can be empathetic because he wants to go back home, or potentially go back home. But I have to get past mad because we will make good decisions around here if we’re methodical. We didn’t put ourselves in it; he did. I know he likes Indiana. I don’t think it’s that. It’s not ideal for us, but we have to do what’s best for our organization.”
In a move to alleviate fears of some fans who expect the worst — that George may still be on the roster by the start of next season — Pritchard emphasized that he will continue to evaluate the Pacers’ offers to find the best one to move George.
“We could pull the trigger,” he said, “at any time.”
Call IndyStar reporter Nate Taylor at (317) 444-6484. Follow him on Twitter: @ByNateTaylor.
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