Making sense of the extend-and-trade Paul George rumors

By now, dear reader, you have probably caught wind of the Paul George-extend-and-trade rumors.

If you are skeptical, you should be. Acquiring the services of a max contract free agent AND George via an extension sounds pretty far-fetched. Also, there are several strong arguments against the dominoes falling just-so to make it work. So, let's take the wet-blanket approach, and review the primary obstacles to such a trade going down.


The coming CBA has added new tools to use in extending players, which allows teams to trade for a player with terms included that allow for an increase over the player's previous year's salary by up to 120%. This means that if the player chooses this option, they are able to earn significantly more than the current rules allow, just 107.5%. Such a deal is the Indiana Pacers' best chance to get something close to George's fair value, but given the duress his declaration of intent to leave the team has put them in, they won't quite get what he deserves.

The rumor Adam Kaufman brought to our attention on the night of the 2017 NBA Draft hasn't yet materialized for another, important reason: trading for George before signing a free agent would require moving at minimum Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, and without moving additional salary off the books, would then limit Boston to offering less than a full tier-two max contract ($30 million per year for players with six to nine years experience). I'm not going to get into all the different permutations, but we're looking at somewhere in the area of $4 to 8 million shortfall for a max deal should no other players come off the books, depending on how things are structured. This bring us to other, more predictable complications, to which we'll now turn.


This part may make your brain hurt if you don't like cap geekery, so I'll do my best to keep it as simple as possible. And to that end, I'd like to share some excellent work by's Albert Nahmad, who has broken down some of the best cap-based analysis of this proposed deal in a recent article. I'll try to break down his excellent analysis into some less-geeky language for the non-cap nerdists among our readers.

Nahmad, regarding Boston's intentions, should these reports prove accurate:

"If I had to guess ... I would suggest that the extension ... would actually be a renegotiation and extension to be signed shortly after the Celtics have acquired ... George [which] would increase his 2017-18 salary from $19.5 million to maybe as much as the $30 million maximum (at a $99 million salary cap), and thereafter extend for the maximum allowable two additional years – that’s three years, up to $94 million total."

What this means is that George could be traded, then renegotiated to increase his salary after signing their targeted free agent (presumably Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin). He could also wait for six months to renegotiate not as part of the terms of the deal to get to a five years, $169 million total deal. However, if money is still a significant factor - which it should be - there's important reasons to choose a different path (it should be noted if money were THE factor, he'd gun for All-NBA to earn eligibility for a designated veteran player exception, which he clearly has eschewed in favor of seeking a contending team).

A two-year extension on top of next season would position George to get back on the market heading into his tenth year of experience, and allow him to go after a tier-three max deal (worth 35% of whatever the cap will be then, now about $40 million per year), only available to veterans with at least ten years' experience. If renegotiated up to his current maximum salary or close to it, this could translate to north of $70 million in additional earnings which might not be available should he wait an additional season to sign a four-year deal with a new club (and almost certainly should he change his mind and take a five-year deal with the Pacers).

There are also other issues to consider, chief among them is the fact the Paul is clearly tired of losing, and wants to burnish his legacy as soon as possible. This is not speculation, mind you - it's what has been the driving force behind one of the game's biggest names in history (Larry Bird, for you lovable troglodytes) stepping down after it became clear George planned on decamping at his first available chance. This was only reaffirmed by his comments clearly designed to signal the Pacers should do whatever they can to get assets for him before he walks as a free agent at the end of next season.

Much like a famous Celtic who made similar demands before the arrival of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in the summer of 2007, George, a native of Palmdale, California (a suburb of Los Angeles), has expressed a desire to play for Los Angeles Lakers. However, the Lakers have seemingly confused the leverage George's camp has from such a declaration as fact, ignoring the triggering cause - a lack of contention - would still be an issue for several years as the team's young prospects slowly round into whatever they will be in their primes. While making space on the roster by moving Timofey Mozgov's deal for Brook Lopez was a wise move, it was not to get into the George-trade sweepstakes; they can't offer much else and hope to contend, and SHOULD still be marred by the Dwight Howard experience, too.

So, with this in mind, George would be by FAR best positioned to contend - if that's his primary motive - in Boston. The three-year period would line up very well with Boston's existing deals, and, free of Bradley's potential extension woes, would only have to find ways to keep Isaiah Thomas happy. There are a lot of tools which could be brought to bear for everyone involved - creative use of bonuses, trade kickers, and early-termination options - as well as likely-higher endorsement deals that may come for playing for a large-market team already on the cusp of contention. The tax bill (regardless of the details) would also be tremendous, but you can't win if the team won't spend, especially lately.

Another issue when it comes to contention is what will be left of the roster after acquiring George. To be sure, losing Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder would be by no reasonable analysis a minor loss. However, as has been noted, the deal may very well hang on the balance of signing a major free agent. Like many of you, I would prefer such a player to be Hayward, but as I have recently argued, it might also work with a player like Blake Griffin. Extending George with a player of such a caliber would more than make up for their departure, and at least in the case of Bradley, eliminate a potential loss of talent along what Indy faces from George when his deal expires next season.

Such a move would open up at least one starting position at the two for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to spend crucial development minutes at, as well as providing support at the three and four in rotation minutes. Most importantly in this regard, if the most recent terms of such a proposed deal prove accurate, it would leave Boston with the 2018 Brooklyn pick and several other high-value assets to add to the roster should making terms with Thomas prove impossible for any of several reasons. Of course, this brings us to the final reason this might not go down:


No, not the literal reaper - just a guy who descends on teams juuuust before they seem to croak, taking their assets and leaving them a corpse of themselves afterwards. Danny Ainge's reputation had grown to nearly Red Auerbach-levels before the confusing trade of the top pick in this year's draft caused a short-lived questioning of his acuity - at least with trades, anyway (the debate on his drafting is far from settled and not something I wish to write on here). Now, this potential deal is stretching knowledge of the new CBA for even the best cap experts of the NBA to new levels, slowly being realized as a possible-if-unlikely reason for Ainge's actions.

Rival GMs are justifiably gun-shy to deal with Trader Danny given the returns he's reaped since blowing up his last contending team, and the effects of the TV money boom-and-bust cycle we're currently at the (presumably) low point of may further compound the situation in ways we have little precedent to predict. The apparent incompetence among some of the league's bigger-fish front offices and owners (I'm looking at you, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers) has already sent big ripples through the league (and probably Boston's planning), leaving us no way of knowing to what extent these and other teams may be gumming up the works for a major move on the part of the Celtics.


Given all of these reasons why such a deal - while certainly possible, should all the pieces come together - will probably NOT happen, it's wise to do your best at tempering expectations. There's a very good chance Boston adds only one max-contract type player to its roster this summer, and a good chance they add none. They are well-positioned to keep on keeping on, should these (if accurate) or similar plans not pan out. But looking back at Boston's tepid involvement in other potential deals on draft night, if this was the primary focus (and given what we've heard to date, it freakin' should have been), the lack of serious interest - and dealing the top pick - makes a lot more sense.

Even still, my finger have been crossed so long, it's a miracle this even got written.

For more stories about the offseason on CelticsLife, click here. For more by Justin, click here.

Photo via Darron Cummings/AP
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn