This morning ESPN dropped a long and richly detailed account of the circumstances that surrounded and led to Kyrie Irving’s surprise trade request, first reported Friday afternoon, in which he told Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he no longer wants to play in Cleveland. It seems Irving’s dissatisfaction in Cleveland mostly has to do with his interest in being the centerpiece of a basketball team, and not second banana in the LeBron James show. It’s an engrossing report, and you should definitely read the whole thing.
Wrapped up in there, too, are more details of Cleveland’s determined push to trade for Paul George, in the aftermath of George making it known he would be moving on from Indiana:
On draft night, as the Chicago Bulls were finalizing a deal with the Wolves to move Butler, the Cavs were feverishly trying to assemble a three-team trade with the Pacers. The Denver Nuggets had a strong desire to acquire Kevin Love and became a legitimate trade partner with Indiana. The Nuggets were willing to include wing Gary Harris and the No. 13 pick in that night’s draft to get Love, and the Cavs would reroute the assets to Indy for George, sources said.
That trade never happened, at least in part because Indiana was also dealing with the Portland Trail Blazers, who were reportedly offering three first-round draft picks for a season of Paul George. As you now know, that trade also never happened.
So, that was June 22. The Pacers apparently failed to close pre-draft deals that would have landed them Gary Harris and a lottery pick, or three first-round draft picks. In a world in which Jimmy Butler, with two years left on his contract, was traded for a badly injured Zach LaVine plus Kris Dunn (who may not be any good at all), landing a very promising, 22-year-old, two-way wing on a rookie contract, plus a lottery pick, would’ve been a respectable return for one final year of Paul George’s services! That ship apparently sailed on the 22nd, but that doesn’t mean a deal couldn’t be salvaged:
On the afternoon of June 30, the sides thought they had a deal. On a conference call between the teams, everyone tentatively agreed. George to the Cavs, Love to the Nuggets, Harris and other pieces to the Pacers, sources said.
Plans were put in place for a call to be arranged between George and Gilbert, an important step before the trade would become final, sources said. The front office began making other plans to complement George as free agency was about to begin.
But then Pritchard, who had been on the conference call when the deal was tentatively agreed to, sent the message that his team was backing out, sources said. There was no deal.
Gary Harris is good! He put up 61 percent True Shooting on 18.5 percent usage, and finished the season 8th in the NBA in three-point accuracy on more than four attempts per game. Gary Harris can play. It is not clear that Victor Oladipo—the centerpiece of the trade Indiana eventually did make—is any better than Gary Harris, certainly not once you factor in age and contract value: Oladipo is three years older than Harris, and is due $84 million over the next four years. Harris has a year left on his rookie deal, after which he will become a restricted free agent. The home team, with contract matching rights, has an enormous edge in retaining restricted free agents in the NBA.
The Pacers were in a tough spot once everyone learned Paul George wanted out of Indiana, but it looks increasingly like the Pacers flinched on reasonable deals and wound up with an underwhelming, expensive return that only gestures in the direction of keeping the team competitive in the immediate future. If that was the design, it’s not clear that the Oladipo-Sabonis package is all that better suited to the job than a deal centered on Gary Harris. The East being what it is, who knows, but this is a discouraging start for the Kevin Pritchard era in Indiana.