Well, that didn't take long. Paul George was expected to be traded at the start of free agency, as teams scrambled to upgrade their roster, and with George having made his intentions clear to the Pacers that he was not going to re-sign in Indiana with the Los Angeles Lakers as his preferred destination.
But no one expected Oklahoma City to be the team to step up to acquire the 27-year-old forward. Sam Presti and the Thunder did just that, sending Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the Pacers. Here are three takeaways from the deal.
1. The Thunder are title contenders again
This was an out-of-nowhere move from Presti, who went into free agency knowing that Russell Westbrook could leave after next season and without much wiggle room below the luxury tax to re-sign his own players. Despite all that, he managed to land a superstar in his prime (without giving up a future draft pick) and made a bet on the Westbrook-George partnership succeeding.
In a vacuum, acquiring George represents a significant recovery for the loss of Kevin Durant. Pairing the reigning MVP -- who averaged 31.6 points, 10.4 assists and 10.7 rebounds last season -- with one of the best two-way forwards in the league in George means the Thunder won't be a one-man show next season. But George and Westbrook will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-18 season and the Lakers still loom as a favorite to land him next summer.
George is a great second fiddle who can play off the ball and a valuable perimeter defender. Plus, with the Thunder needing to carve out additional cap space to re-sign Andre Roberson, Presti was able to save the Thunder $4 million in salary for 2017-18.
NBA exec on Paul George deal: "World's smartest salary dump by OKC."- Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 1, 2017
The Thunder pulled off a stunning trade on Friday night. Now, they have to see if their new star pairing pans out, perhaps convincing both players to stay in Oklahoma City long term.
2. The Pacers ended up with a minimal return for a franchise player
Once George made his intentions clear he wouldn't re-sign, the Pacers lost any leverage in the trade market. There were early reports of the Cavs being interested and offering Kevin Love in return. The Clippers and Wizards wanted to get in on the proceedings. The Lakers were offering Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and picks. The Celtics have their plethora of young players and draft picks, but were reluctant to part with significant assets to land a star.
The trade offers being reported were not particularly appealing, but even though general manager Kevin Pritchard was up against it, there was an expectation that teams were willing to take a one-year bet on George -- despite his insistence on joining the Lakers next season -- and that a market would materialize for the Pacers to land a combination of young prospects with upside and draft picks.
Instead, Pritchard did not add a pick and got Oladipo, who will earn $21 million for each of the next three seasons, and at 25, might never outperform his contract value. They also got Sabonis, who is an interesting prospect but not a blue-chipper who can turn a franchise around. The return feels especially thin given the number of teams the Pacers were talking to. Indiana was facing a long rebuild either way, but this trade means the challenge just got much tougher.
3. The Lakers and Celtics are still lying in wait
The Lakers traded D'Angelo Russell to the Nets in order to clear Timofey Mozgov's contract off the books as they prepared to open up cap space for the summer of 2018 and the potential recruiting of LeBron James and George. There was also a scenario where the Lakers would acquire George via trade this summer. Instead, he's off to the Thunder, who will hold his Bird Rights next year. George will face plenty of questions when he arrives in Oklahoma City about his stated preference to join the Lakers eventually, and while he won't provide any answers, the Lakers will also have to wait a season before finding out if they can get back to relevance.
As for the Celtics, they watched Blake Griffin re-sign with the Clippers, Jimmy Butler get traded to Minnesota earlier this week, and George go West to join the Thunder. They have a meeting scheduled with Gordon Hayward this weekend, but even as Danny Ainge has toed the line of keeping the Celtics competitive while maintaining draft assets and financial flexibility moving forward, he has missed out again on acquiring a star. We may look back on this in a year when George is in Los Angeles and applaud Ainge for not mortgaging a significant part of the future for a one-year rental that still didn't help them dethrone LeBron and the Cavs in the East. Or we might add this to the long list of missed opportunities for the Celtics when they had the available assets to assemble a championship contender.