On Thursday, we learned that the Atlanta Hawks offered four first-round picks for Paul George back around the trade deadline. The fact that Atlanta tried to trade for George isn’t exactly news, but the full extent of the offer raises several questions. Did Indiana ever consider something like this? Would this deal have crippled the Hawks a few years down the road? And finally, what does an offer of this magnitude say about how Atlanta is looking at team building?
There are good answers to all of these questions, but the main takeaway is that this is a huge offer that may have ultimately hurt both teams had it gone through. Secondly, it points to an interesting team-building philosophy from the Hawks, one that seems to be the polar opposite of the franchise’s tactics in recent years. And ultimately, it may be for the best that this deal never went though.
First of all, there’s no doubt that Paul George is a fantastic player. His numbers suffered this year, and his absence from the all-NBA teams isn’t terribly surprising. In my mind, the best way to think about George’s talent is this: he didn’t deserve all-NBA honors this season, but over the course of his career he is easily that caliber of player. And adding George to this Hawks team would have unquestionably made it better.
However, it doesn’t appear that Indiana ever seriously considered this deal. And that makes sense. The Hawks own multiple additional first-round picks over the next few drafts, but none of these selections project to be anything higher than mid-round selections. We don’t know what protections were put on these picks, but that may not matter since none of them were primed to fall high in the lottery. Atlanta obviously couldn’t offer anything close to the assets that a team like Boston has, so the leadership opted to go with quantity over quality.
For the Pacers, it makes sense to turn this offer down. Players like George are extremely rare, and it’s borderline impossible to find one with a middle-of-the-pack pick. Even with four of them, finding another George seems highly unlikely. Especially at the time, when the Pacers were fighting for a spot, this offer doesn’t seem like it ever got much traction.
However, as odd as it may sound, this may have been even worse for the Hawks. George is great, and would probably have given the team enough talent to beat the Wizards (and possible the Celtics as well). Even if the Hawks would still have lost to the Cavaliers, making the conference finals would have been a very nice ending for the season. But after that, the true cost of this deal would start to set in. Four first-round picks is a massive load, and would leave Atlanta with very little in the way of future assets going forward.
In some cases, that’s worth it. But with George, it wouldn’t have been. After the deadline, more speculation about his ties to the Los Angeles Lakers surfaced. It has become seemingly more likely (though still not certain) that George has no interest in playing for anyone other than Los Angeles after next season, meaning that now, potential trade partners would only get one season. Is all semblance of future flexibility worth it for a year and a half of a top-15 player? Especially when the Hawks would probably have still lose to Cleveland both this year and next? Probably not.
Without sitting in the team’s offices in late February, it’s hard to definitively say whether or not Atlanta thought this trade was realistic. From the outside, though, it seems like it probably wasn’t. George is a true franchise player, and has delivered the Pacers some of their best seasons in recent franchise history.
Desperation trades like this also fly in the face of the Hawks’ normal strategies. Their big free-agent signings last offseason were a bit of a departure as well, but Atlanta has typically built teams by developing draft picks and overlooked free agents. Just look at Taurean Prince, as he is only the most recent example of “Hawks University.” Signing Dwight Howard was already a shift from earlier strategies, but trading for George would have meant a complete reversal.
This trade, as odd as it may seem, looks bad for both teams with the benefit of hindsight. And because of that, Hawks fans can take comfort in the fact that the team still has an abundance of draft picks coming up. Even if the team makes more questionable free-agent signings in July, the upcoming picks mean that some part of the future is still bright. Adding a player like George is always fun to think about, but his contract status, and the high cost of adding him, may mean that it’s for the best that it didn’t work out.