It is the general consensus in Indiana at least that “the Pacers won the Paul George trade.”
After all, the Pacers got Victor Oladipo, who didn’t need anyone to drop out due to injury in order to get into the All-Star Game. They got Domantas Sabonis, who went from statistically one of the league’s worst rookies in 2016-17 to an emerging star at center in 2017-18.
And they also got a team that won 48 games in the regular season, gave Cleveland their toughest test on the road to the Finals (sorry Boston, you guys had home court advantage and your four losses weren’t by a combined 11 points and a BS goaltending call that even the league admitted it screwed up), and looks to have a bright future with a fantastic young core of players.
What did the Thunder get? One more win than they had when Russell Westbrook was on a G-League team and went full Oscar Robertson to drag them to the playoffs, one more playoff win to bow out in six games instead of five because they had the higher seed, and the very real question in play of whether the Thunder could just save a bunch of money by just clearing cap room and letting Westbrook’s $205 million over the next five years just be a cost of getting butts in the seats in the C’mon, Chesapeake Bay Is 1,500 Miles From Here Arena.
\nAll this despite PG13 putting up a season commensurate with the level of play one would expect from him after all those years in Indiana.
Yet as George looks to sign with the Lakers in the offseason as everyone knows he will with or without LeBron James (spoiler alert: LeBron won’t go anywhere near that garbage fire of a front office that lets LaVar Ball play unofficial assistant GM), the perception around the league is that he’s cold product.
So what happened?
Carmelo Anthony happened, that’s what.
The Thunder were supposed to be a big deal, with Russ, PG, and Melo combining to create a team not radically different from the 2012 lockout team that made the NBA Finals. They were supposed to be the equal of the likes of Golden State and Houston.
But Melo was so putrid, so washed up beyond all hope of redemption, that he dragged the Thunder down with him.
Melo was one of three players with at least 2500 minutes played and a negative VORP; Andrew Wiggins and Harrison Barnes were the other two. And Barnes was at least close to the zero level on a team that was absolute garbage; it’s between Wiggins and Melo for who was the worst player in the entire league last season.
And turning the Thunder into a disaster movie that even Roland Emmerich would blanch at dragged George’s reputation down to the point where people started asking questions about whether PG13 is even all that good.
Never mind that George shot 40.1 percent from three point land, the best full season of his career, despite absolutely no perimeter defenders fearing anyone else’s three-point shot (Westbrook’s is as bad and at times worse than Charles Barkley, the league’s all-time worst three-point shooter of anyone with a meaningful volume of attempts.)
Never mind that PG13’s midrange jumpers were always contested the same way they always were in Indiana because he had no outlet to pass the ball when the shot clock ran down and therefore he had to take a bad shot.
And never mind that his defense…actually, never mind his defense. He had a dead-even Defensive BPM on the season. Not bad but not great on a ninth-in-the-league defensive team.
But it’s not fair to expect the second-best player on a bad team to play like a true All-Star. Nobody knew Oladipo was any good until he got to Indiana, got to run the team, and made a lot of All-NBA and All-Defense noise.
In Dipo’s case, it was because he was a bit player in the Russell Westbrook Show. It’s hard to look good when your team sucks and only wins games because your stat-hounding point guard is putting up triple-doubles on the nights you beat the teams you’re supposed to beat and carry that to the playoffs.
In PG13’s case, he’s getting downright underrated because expectations were so high in Oklahoma City that 48 wins was a disappointment, but one of his teammates is a stat-hounding glory boy who doesn’t win in the playoffs (if we needed any proof that Kevin Durant was the only reason the Thunder won anything, two straight Finals MVPs in Golden State ought to be enough) and the other is either the second-worst or the worst player in the entire NBA.
Teams are going to balk at giving PG13 a max deal in free agency, and the only reason he ends up on the Lakers might be because LA falls into him backwards and bids against themselves to pay him more than the market would otherwise bear.
But if the grown-ups in LA realize the market’s thin and PG will stay in OKC rather than take money from anyone other than his hometown team and they bid accordingly, that could end up costing George a ton…and if he wants a finger to point at, Carmelo Bad Teammate Anthony is going to be the guy.
It’s a plain old tragedy. Even jilted Pacers fans have got to just feel bad for the guy who used to be such a fixture at Bankers Life.