INDIANAPOLIS — Paul George sat at the top of the first-base dugout in Victory Field. He waited for a throng of reporters to surround him. George, after two months of speculation about his future, knew the type of questions he would be asked Thursday night.
George answered each question. He never wavered. His message, since he joined the Indiana Pacers seven years ago, remained the same: He wants to be a champion in the Pacers’ blue and gold.
Then, to strengthen his words, George stated facts:
“I’m under contract as a Pacer,” he said. “That’s all that needs to really be known. I’m here. I’m a Pacer. Again, what I’ve been dealing with is stories. You guys talking or teams talking. I’m a Pacer. There’s no way around that. This is my team, my group and this is where I’m at.”
George, the Pacers’ star player and lone All-Star from last season, did his best to defuse the rumors surrounding him — about being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, his hometown team or about him joining his rival LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I don’t talk to LeBron at all,” George said. “We don’t communicate. I look up to LeBron, obviously. He’s been a tremendous ambassador to this game. He’s been a very huge influencer for me outside of the game, but we don’t communicate and figure out where one another’s going.”
George, who has one year left on his contract, said he intends to play out his deal with the Pacers. George can opt out of his contract after next season, which he is expected to do. He hopes the Pacers, led by new team president Kevin Pritchard, can construct a roster to contend in the Eastern Conference.
In April, George declined to answer questions about his future after the Pacers, who underachieved and were swept out of the playoffs by James and the Cavaliers. Thursday served as the first time that George made public commits about his future.
“Again, what I’ve always been preaching, more so than you see now, is having guys I can win with,” George said. “Wanting to win, it came from the heart and it’s very sincere on wanting to bring that to Indiana. That’s where my heart is going to always be at.”
A few minutes later, George reiterated his ultimate goal.
“It’s all about bringing a championship to Indiana,” he said.
George, after training in Los Angeles the past few weeks, returned to Indianapolis for the ninth annual celebrity softball game he hosted alongside Robert Mathis, the retired Indianapolis Colts linebacker.
George’s participation in the game helped bring awareness for Indiana Children’s Wish Fund. The proceeds from the game will help the fund grant wishes to Indiana children ages 3 to 18 who suffer from life-threatening illnesses. The event is held in the memory of Caroline Symmes, who was involved in the inaugural softball game before dying in 2009.
George was joined by Pacers coach Nate McMillan and teammates Myles Turner, Joe Young and Georges Niang.
Turner, in a radio interview with hosts Jake Query and Derek Schultz, said he believes George will not be traded.
“P.G. has kept that to himself,” Turner said, “but I’m confident he wants to be here.”
McMillan said he hasn’t paid attention to analysts and fans who speculate on George’s future.
“We’re focusing on this draft and getting ourselves ready for that,” McMillan said of Thursday’s event. He added of his message to George: “We’ve talked right at the end of the season, we’ve talked several times in the last month or so. I want him to get some rest, mentally and physically. Get your rest and then get yourself ready.”
Pritchard watched the game from the third-base dugout.
George said he has established a strong relationship with Pritchard. When Pritchard replaced Larry Bird in the Pacers’ front office in May, he made it clear he had no intention of trading George, which would signal the franchise going through a long-term rebuild.
Pritchard and George had dinner May 2, the day after Pritchard’s introductory news conference. George said it felt great that Pritchard’s first priority was to talk with him.
“I know I’m just a player and I love being in just a player position, but at the end of the day, I’m the guy out there trying to compete for what this city wants,” George said. “I love being a part of what he’s trying to do from day one. We kind of shared and really had the same output on what we wanted out of this and what we want to get to and what’s going to help us get to that. His mind is in the right place in terms of the type of players I want to be with and be around.”
Last month, Pritchard acknowledged the team’s layered relationships and interactions from last season must change for long-term success. Pritchard wants the Pacers to acquire talented players who are versatile for defensive purposes and can be more dynamic on offense. George acknowledged that accomplishing such a mission will be tough given the Pacers’ salary cap room and the uncertainty of his future after next season.
George said he was unsure if he would participate in the front office’s meetings with players during free agency next month.
“We’ll see how well we can shape this team up,” George said of himself and Pritchard. “As a player, I’m ready to win and it will have to be both sides kind of being on the same page more so than ever. You don’t want to have guys commit and you don’t know the certainty of what you’re going to do as far as like me being in the situation I am in now going into the offseason next year. I’m trying to recruit guys and I don’t know my certainty of where I’m going to be. Myself and K.P. are really going to have to be on the same page.”
Last month, George was not voted onto any of the three All-NBA teams, which disappointed him. If he had been voted onto one of the three All-NBA teams (IndyStar's Nate Taylor voted him to the third team), he would have been eligible to receive the designated player exception supermax contract, which would result in an extra year and $75 million from the Pacers. The total contract would have been five years and about $210 million.
George, though, understands that he can be eligible for the supermax with the Pacers next season if he is voted an All-NBA player, the list that distinguishes the top 15 players every season.
“That just means I have to be better next season,” he said. “If I have the opportunity to play this year out here again, um, who doesn’t like more money? So why not compete my butt off and be special this next season.”
George, instead of focusing on his future, said he chooses to live in the moment, which was his goal in playing the in the softball game to raise proceeds for the Children’s Wish Fund.
But toward the end of his time with reporters, George emphasized that he doesn’t know what his future will be after next season.
“It will be tough, but when I get there hopefully I will be ready to sit down with my family, be ready to sit down with people close to me to make that decision,” he said. “Again, I have another year to play out before I can even think about that. So, we’re going to take this thing slowly. I think the best part about it is I’m in the driver’s seat.”
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