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Paul George and Free Agency Problems


There was a bit of an MMB kerfuffle a couple of weeks ago when we collectively discussed whether we'd pay Paul George a max contract. Now that his contract extension is done, a max in excess of 90 million, I think it's time to revisit it.

My argument was "duh", but the counter-argument, which has and had some legs is that George is not necessarily "worth" a max .

The argument of what players are "worth" is always a bit misty since arguably the talent of any basketball player isn't actually worth even one million dollars, and, of course, because it's monopoly money, players are worth what the market will bear. But there's a real, substantive debate to have here.

We want to make it simple, me as much as anybody. Paul George will get paid the max contract and if the Pacers want to keep doing what they're doing it should be them so they have Paul George. Bingo Bango. But the CBA ramifications are many and complex and I don't pretend to understand all of them.

Basically, though, signing a max guy who isn't LeBron James or Kevin Durant may limit your team financially to the point where it can't make up the talent gap between your guy and LBJ with  secondary players because of money. Which, if accurate, would mean that whether or not making sure you keep Paul George no matter what it takes is the only sane thing to do, you still may be fatally injuring your chances of winning a championship by doing so.

Still, though.

I mean, the problem is that any line of argument really can't overcome the difference between what the Pacers can ever expect to do with Paul George and without. And that's really all there is to it.

A lot of these lines of argument are based on the false idea that teams have any negotiating power. The NBA isn't where if you don't like the price you look for something else. You either pay a guy what he'll make elsewhere or he leaves.

And you can argue until you're blue in the face that a guy should know the effect of committing so much money to him and should take less, and  that he just better, or else, that's what...

But that, too, starts with the false idea that teams have any negotiating power. Any. At all. Like you can do more than ask a guy "hey, would you be willing to take less money so that we Okay."

Because one of the things in this world that there are the fewest replacements for is impact NBA players. An NBA superstar in his prime can choose anywhere, anywhere at all, and everyone will pay him exactly the same amount of money. You want to tell him he should take less for the sake of the team? Sure, if he wants to. But he doesn't, and it's no sense wishing he does.

Hell, Dwight Howard still thinks he left 20 million on the table, leaving LA. You ever wonder how that's possible when the centerpiece of the "choose Texas" offense has supposedly always been the lack of an income tax? It's because players don't care because players don't have to.

There are real concerns with just how good Paul George is. Really. For however good he looked against the best players in the world in the playoffs, here's a third year pro who's averaged over 12 points just once, and over 18 points never. You love that he's a two way player, you love his rebounding and that he's just 23, but while you got guys like Mark Aguirre and LaMarcus Aldridge up there in his "similarity scores" but you also got Carlos Boozer, Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Willis. It's a shame that his contract is up now, at the absolute peak of his value.

It is, though.

You know what I think? I think the feeling that it's possible to BE a savvy consumer when it comes to what we might call "consensus max" guys, guys who would field a lot of max offers, is one of those things that keeps fans from going insane. It offers an illusory feeling of control, that front offices have more power to affect things than they do. We need that feeling of control to go on being fans, maybe, to go on hoping.

And, of course, a good front office makes a huge difference, with the non-max guys. With the drafts, and the complementary parts and all that business. But it's no sense wanting players to feel differently than they do or pretending that a world exists in which anything good happens if you refuse to offer your best player the money he's going to earn elsewhere and keep it for some nebulous thing that's never going to happen. It's like Eddie Izzard's joke about saving it for a woman made of breasts. Come on, kids.

For some reason, we all have a really hard time accepting the fact that there are not an endless stream of impact free agents out there, in fact, the opposite. If you don't pay Jose Calderon 7 million, you pay Darren Collison 3 million. If you don't pay Samuel Dalembert 3.7 million, you pay, I don't know, DeSagana Diop 2 million. If you pay less, it's not often because you've filled a position with a better option. And, as the Mavericks know well, money saved doesn't magically turn into players.

Smart basketball people have been pointing out that George has made just one all-NBA third team, that his achievements to date don't match up with basically anybody else making max money besides, maybe, John Wall. But it's not really a question of what they're making, it's a question of what you do without them, since you can't make them take what you think they're worth.

There's room for choice, the choices that make the difference, but not at the Paul George end of things. The Pacers did what they had to do or else end what they are building and that's really the only thing worth saying about that.