INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard called it a “gut punch” when he found out that All-Star Paul George does not want to be part of the franchise long term.
“It couldn’t have come at a worse time,” Pritchard said at the conclusion of Thursday’s NBA draft. “If we would have known this a few months ago, I think we could have been more prepared. Becoming public was a big issue.
“We want our players to want to be here, that’s important. It really is. When Paul said he didn’t, that’s a gut punch.”
George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, told Pritchard last weekend that the forward plans to opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent in July 2018.
Pritchard said he had not spoken to George since he was made aware of his intentions.
The Rockets, Cavaliers, Clippers, Lakers, Celtics and Wizards are among the teams that have expressed interested in trading for George, league sources have told ESPN in recent days.
The draft came and went without the Pacers pulling off a deal despite talking to a number of teams about a potential trade. The Pacers used their first- and second-round picks on UCLA teammates TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu.
“Multiple things came up [Thursday],” Pritchard said. “We looked at a lot of things that included draft picks, but at the end of the day 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.”
The Pacers, who are on the brink of a rebuild, would be better off trading George so that they’re not stuck in a predicament like Oklahoma City when Kevin Durant became a free agent and signed with Golden State last summer. That left the Thunder in the position of not getting anything in return for losing Durant.
Pritchard, who was making his first public comments since the news broke about George’s intentions, remained calm throughout his 20-minute news conference. He did reference the words “gut punch” in some fashion five times.
“For me it was a gut punch, 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 style that we’d like to play,” he said.
The Pacers, according to Pritchard, plan to be patient in their desire to trade George. Pritchard didn’t rule out the possibility of George still being on the roster when training camp opens in the fall.
The Pacers are in a tough position leverage wise because other teams know they want to move George, who averaged 23.7 points last season, and because he is expected to become a free agent next summer, which could turn teams off in wanting to acquire him.
“It’s not ideal but, we didn’t put ourselves in it,” Pritchard said. “[George] did. I know he likes Indiana. I don’t think it’s that. I think we have to look at our scenarios and it doesn’t mean we have to look today. We don’t want to have to be rushed. We want to be methodical in our decision-making. We’re going to look at everything.
“For Paul, it’s a situation as he looks at this, it’s not ideal, but it’s not ideal for us. We have to do what’s best for our organization.”