'It’s an organization that just cared to be competitive': Paul George discusses Pacers exit, again
The conversation continues three and a half years later.
Each new interview with Paul George leads to more information being revealed. It was one year ago, after the Clippers topped the Pacers 110-99, George teased a big reveal about what went down in June, 2017.
“You know what, someday I’ll do a tell-all and I’ll tell the leading events of how I left Indiana,” he said, standing just inside the door of the visitor’s locker room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “And I promise you, I’m not the one to boo.”
I immediately followed up asking if he’d like share right then and there.
“Nah, I’m not going to share the teaser.”
A year later, just before the start of a new season, George joined Matt Barnes and former Pacer Stephen Jackson on SHOWTIME Basketball’s ALL THE SMOKE podcast — and he had plenty to say. They talked for 75 minutes and spent a significant amount of time on being drafted, his time in Indy and then what went wrong.
His again mentioned how they traded away many key players, how Larry Bird pushed for him to play power forward coming off the injury, how Kevin Pritchard replaced Bird and two months later and then he wanted out. And he went into more detail about how when he spoke with Anthony Davis about teaming up in Indy, the Pacers front office said they couldn’t do it.
If you look at that 2015-16 Pacers roster, there’s not much of interest for the Pelicans, who would have had to agree to trade Davis. So it would have had to include significant draft compensation and then some.
“I think it’s an organization that just cared to be competitive,” George said of the Pacers. “They don’t care to win.”
The Pacers have reached the postseason in 25 of the last 31 seasons, but they’ve never won an NBA title and haven’t gotten out of the first round since the 2013-14 season, months before George suffered a compound leg fracture with Team USA.
“I’m happy I went to Indy as a rookie because it allowed me to lock in as a player and work on my game with nothing else to do,” he said. “It was just a good switch up for me (from California) to be out there. That’s all I’m going to say on Indy.”
But when pressed further by Barnes and Jackson, he continued.
“I ain’t really vibe with a lot of the front office people after they made the change and Larry (Bird) kind of stepped off and stepped away from the team. Different management took over and at that point, I understood the business part of it. And I had to leave.”
As for the falling out, here’s George’s perspective of what happened.
“I took a lot of heat for it, but it is what it is. So there’s a softball game that we do in Indy to raise awareness for cancer in Indiana. We do this every year and a lot of people — like Roy used to be the face of it, he got traded away and I took it over with Robert Mathis. We took it over and I joined part with him to keep that game and that tradition going.
“We did that, I got interviewed and they’re like ‘PG, do you want to stay here? What’s your plans?’ And at that point — I grew up a Kobe (Bryant) fan, Kobe stayed in LA. That’s all I knew, I wanted to stay with the organization that drafted me and see what happens there. Indy didn’t have a championship, they still don’t but I wanted to be the first one to bring it to them. So I go through the whole press after the event, say I want to stay here, like this is home and where I want to win one at.
“Before we get to that point, a lot of stuff happened. That season, before we got to that summer, my name came up in trade talks. So I had the front office meet me in New Orleans, it was All-Star weekend. I had the front office meet me in New Orleans, chop it up with them and my agent came down.
“… That was like strike ones and twos and when I heard my name in trade talks, that’s strike three. We just had a lunch about this.”
“So, fast-forward to the moment where we do this game, I get interviewed, still saying I want to be here and this is my home. That night, we had a top three player in the league at this time, power forward that I was trying to get to come to Indy. He wanted to come. I bring it to the front office. They deaded it. It was AD (Anthony Davis). Me and AD talked and AD wanted to come to Indy, close to Chicago and he was like, ‘That’s perfect, y’all got something going on there.’”
Now here’s most of the new material and George doesn’t hold back in expressing his opinion.
“I bring that to the front office and they deaded it,” he continued. “We can’t do it, small market, yada yada. So then that night, after we did the charity game, they called me up like, ‘We got this player, and we’re looking at that player,’ and we’re not winning with these two guys that they named. So I called my agent, and I’m like ‘What am I doing here? They don’t want to win.’
“And I don’t want to bash the organization because it was wonderful people there, but in my opinion, I think it’s an organization that just cared to be competitive. They don’t care to win. They got pressure from the city of (Indianapolis) to be competitive and that’s where they hang their hat on. They just want to be a team that competes. Their chance of winning is through the draft and building the team — and that’s going to take forever.
“So I called my agent like ‘Man, get me out of there. They don’t want to win. I’m wasting time here.’ I came off of surgery, Larry trying to get me play the 4 coming back, it was just a bunch of stuff. I threw the towel in and asked to get out of there.”
That decision by George was a “total gut-punch” to Pritchard, he said then.
Later that month, right before the start of 2017 free agency, Pritchard moved George to the Western Conference — to Oklahoma City in exchange for lottery picks Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. And it worked out well for both organizations.
Though the podcast was recorded a month ago, it was released the same day George agreed to a four-year extension with the Clippers worth a staggering $190 million. This following his first season with the Clippers — and back home in Los Angeles. Family is all nearby, could help raise his two daughters, and his parents don’t have to fly to see him play.
“I get to spend Christmas in California and I haven’t done that since college,” George said a year ago. “My kids get to grow up with cousins. My mom’s grandkids get to grow up around their grandparents. It’s bigger than me just being home. It means a lot to me being around my niece and nephews, being around my parents. It just means a lot more than a location that I’m at. I’m back home.”
George spent his first seven seasons in Indy, developed into a four-time All-Star and one of the league’s best two-way players. But he had enough, wanted out, and ultimately ended up back home in California.
The most surprising part to me was when asked to list some of his favorite Pacers teammates, George first mentioned Monta Ellis of all people. Ellis was with the George and the Pacers for two seasons, is still being paid by the team and remains out of the league.
“Cool as hell, country as hell,” George said with a big grin. He also mentioned Danny Granger, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, David West and Roy Hibbert.
This isn’t going to be the last we hear from George on this subject. It’s going to be an ongoing conversation for the rest of his career. What went wrong? Do you regret it? What if you stayed and became the best Pacer of all-time?
To be continued…