Could the Spurs Have Traded for Paul George? A Look Back at What Happened

Paul George recently revealed that if he had it his way, he would have been traded to the San Antonio Spurs back in 2017. In June of that year, George says he told the Indiana Pacers that he wanted to be traded — preferably to the Spurs. Eventually he got traded, not to the Spurs, but to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Did the Spurs miss an opportunity to trade for George and thus keep their dynasty intact? As the Spurs, who improved to 7-13 after beating Kawhi Leonard, George and the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, try to move on from the drama that ended San Antonio’s run of championship level basketball, there’s now a new wrinkle to consider. 

Pondering the Spurs with Paul George

If the Spurs were able to land Paul George back in the summer of 2017, it’s possible that the domino effect of that move would have been Kawhi Leonard deciding to stay in San Antonio. Leonard and George are good friends and the Clippers trading for George is what ultimately convinced Leonard to sign with their franchise.

In a world where the Spurs trade for George and both Leonard and George agree to long-term contract to stay with the Silver and Black, the championship window would be open for the foreseeable future.

Instead, as all Spurs fans know, after George was traded to the Thunder, Leonard only played nine more games with San Antonio before demanding a trade that ultimately landed him on the Toronto Raptors.

Could the Spurs Have Traded for Paul George?

If it was at all possible for the Spurs to trade for Paul George, that would definitely be something the front office would regret not doing. In hindsight, that is the trade that could have potentially brought more championships to San Antonio.

To acquire George from the Pacers, the Thunder gave up Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. At the time, Indiana was panned for the move. Oladipo had an $84 million contract and was coming off an up-and-down season in OKC. Sabonis, the 11th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, had an iffy rookie season.

In retrospect, it was a great move by the Pacers. Freed from watching Russell Westbrook dominate the ball with the Thunder, Oladipo became a two-time All-Star with Indiana and one of the very best shooting guards in the league. Sabonis also excelled with the Pacers and signed a contract extension a couple months ago that will pay him $80 million over the next four seasons.

Rewind back to the summer of 2017 and the Spurs really didn’t have a comparable package to offer the Pacers. The best young players the Spurs had to offer (Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes and Jonathon Simmons) were still in the process of being developed and none had the obviously high ceilings of Oladipo and Sabonis.

The Spurs could have thrown multiple lightly protected first round draft picks to sweeten the offer but that would have been supremely risky, as George only had one year left on his deal and Leonard’s future with the team was already in question. If the Spurs had mortgaged their future for George and both Leonard and George left, San Antonio would be in much worse shape than they are today.

Additionally, there’s no proof that the Pacers were even interested in draft picks in return for George. The Thunder didn’t give up any picks in their trade for George — not even a second rounder.

According to a league source that spoke to ESPN, the Pacers and Spurs talked at the time but San Antonio didn’t have the pieces to tempt Indiana. Looking back on it, that’s most likely true.

What About the Contracts Given to Pau Gasol and Patty Mills?

After not trading for George, the Spurs went on to sign Pau Gasol and Patty Mills to big contracts. Gasol got $48 million over three years, while Mills got $50 million over four years.

Both deals looked to be overpays at the time — and that turned out to be the case. Gasol never came close to earning that deal, while Mills makes more money today than he’d command on the open market. 

The combination of not trading for George and then overpaying Gasol and Mills in the same summer is a difficult pill to swallow for basketball fans in San Antonio.  

But in reality, those events aren’t connected. The Spurs didn’t, for example, spend money on Gasol and Mills that could have gone to George. 

The Spurs wanted Gasol to opt out of his contract so the team could make a run at a big name free agent — with indications pointing to Chris Paul as San Antonio’s target at the time. But after Paul landed with the Houston Rockets, the Spurs decided to instead re-sign Mills, add Rudy Gay and reward Gasol for opting out. 

Final Thoughts on Paul George to the Spurs

Obviously, it’s disappointing that the Spurs are left without a franchise player two and a half years after George supposedly wanted to be traded to San Antonio. Things in South Texas would be a lot rosier if Leonard and George were spearheading the Spurs.

But considering there was no realistic path to a trade with the Pacers, this wasn’t an opportunity missed by the front office. It’s just another chapter to the story Spurs fans will ponder until the day comes that San Antonio gets their hands on another franchise player and a new era begins.