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Paul George Has Shot to Add to His Legacy

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

September 25, 2013

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Paul George has never been one to shy away from a challenge. Having already played in the All-Star game, won the NBA's Most Improved Player award and been voted third-team all-NBA, he's declared his intention to win the Defensive Player of the Year honor and play at an MVP level. All at the age of 23.

Paul George 2012-2013 Photo Gallery »

And now he has a contract to match his ambition. The Pacers conducted a press conference in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse lobby at 11 a.m. Wednesday to announce a contract extension that reportedly will pay George about $90 million over a five-year period, beginning in the 2014-15 season. The commitment should assure the long-term future of the 10th overall pick of the 2010 draft, who so far has been the leading performer of his class.

George emerged last season—his third in the NBA—when Danny Granger was forced out for all but five games because of knee issues that eventually required surgery. After starting slowly as he adjusted to his enhanced role, George caught stride and went on to earn league honors and widespread recognition as he led the Pacers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals. Paul George shoots a jumper against the Atlanta Hawks during the 2013 playoffs

He averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists during the regular season, and 19.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists in the playoffs. Meanwhile, he took on the opponent's best scorer in most games, and performed well enough to be voted to the second all-defensive team. His season hit a memorable turning point when he went scoreless in a game at Golden State on Dec. 1, and headed straight for the fieldhouse practice gym when the team's red-eye charter landed in Indianapolis. Arriving at 7 a.m., he put up 501 shots with the help of a rebounding machine that kicked the ball back to him. He followed with 34 points and nine rebounds in a victory at Chicago.

He turned in the first triple-double of his career against Charlotte in the final game before the All-Star game, with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. He nearly duplicated those numbers in a first-round playoff victory over Atlanta, with 23 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists.

Although he was occasionally betrayed by his youth, such as when he scored just seven points and fouled out of the Pacers' loss in Miami in the closeout game of the conference finals, he has the time and potential for further improvement.

“There's no limits on how good this kid can be,” Pacers president Donnie Walsh said last season.

George's primary challenge now becomes maintaining his work ethic and unselfish approach to the game despite the “burden” of the new contract. The last two Pacers to receive a “max” contract, Jermaine O'Neal and Jalen Rose, wound up being traded when they weren't able to lead their team to title contention.

George appears to have the opportunity to avoid such a fate. He is an accomplished player with plenty of room for improvement and should be surrounded by enough talent to keep the team from floundering. He also doesn't appear likely to be softened by his financial windfall.

“His best talent is his hunger, and his drive and determination,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said last season.

Although he relishes the possibility of becoming one of the NBA's brightest stars, George has given no indication he wants to stray from the team concept that was the Pacers' driving force last season. The fact he led the team in assists during the playoffs offers testimony to his unselfishness. So does the fact he came out for the Pacers' annual golf outing on Monday just to mingle with fans, meet the media and help run the putting contest.

“This team is more about everyone willing to sacrifice for the good of the team,” he said then. “That's what it's going to take.”

By locking up George, the Pacers can now keep the core of last season's team together for at least three more seasons if they choose. David West signed a three-year deal over the summer. Roy Hibbert also has three seasons remaining on his contract, while George Hill has four.

That's at least three more cracks at the championship that became a realistic goal at the end of last season – with George on hand to try to add to his legacy.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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