Short of the Reggie Miller era and the glory days of the ABA, the Indiana Pacers experienced one of their best times as a franchise during Paul George's reign earlier this decade. As he rose to stardom with the Pacers, the team itself became a force in the Eastern Conference and made back-to-back trips to the conference finals.
Those times came to an end over the summer when George was sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder via a trade. The Pacers are in town tonight to face the Thunder (8 ET, NBA League Pass) and in a one-on-one interview with Clifton Brown of the Indianapolis Star, George reflects on his departure from the Pacers, his leadership there and more:
So what message did George have for Pacers’ fans, who are still upset that he asked to be traded through his agent, just six days before the draft, following a seven-year run as one of the best players in Pacers history?
“First and foremost, I want to give thanks to Indiana as a state, for embracing me and my family for seven years of being there,” said George during a one-on-one interview. “I learned so much being there. They taught me so much.
“Obviously, I’m human. Things could have been done a lot better. The process, that whole ordeal could have been done a lot better. I’ll share some of that responsibility. But at the end of the day, I did what was best for myself, what was best for my family. I had to move on. It was the right decision for myself. I’m happy. I’m happy with what the results were.”
George was asked how the messages between him and the Pacers got crossed.
“With him (Kevin) stepping into a new position, I wanted to see what talent was going to be brought in,” George said. “I wanted some assurances of what the team was going to look like. But then it got to the point where it was on my shoulders, with the guys that were being brought in. I didn’t want that burden, not knowing the certainty of how long I was going to be there. I didn’t want to put anyone in a position where ‘Well, Paul steered them one way, and then he left.’ So, I said, ‘I’ll be up front, I’ll put everything on the table, tell them at the end of my contract, I plan to not re-sign.”’
George was the face of the franchise, and was expected to shoulder more responsibility as a leader. But when George was a younger player with the Pacers, veterans like David West, Danny Granger, George Hill, and Roy Hibbert were team leaders. When those players moved on, George was left behind. Coach Nate McMillan sensed George was never completely comfortable trying to assert himself as a vocal leader.
“Things changed for him,” said McMillan after a recent practice. “Some guys just want to play. Having a C (for captain) on their chest doesn’t mean anything to them. They just want to play.
“You have to be yourself, and not try to be something that you’re not. I think Paul just wanted to play. The leadership, and the captain, and all of that? Sometimes people put you in that position because of your status. I think his thing was, ‘You take care of you, and I take care of me. Get yourself ready to play.’ Going to OKC, he’s back in that role of – I play. The leader is going to be Westbrook. I can go here and play.”
“I’m not the leader in terms of getting on everyone,” George said. “I know what level I need to play at. I like to lead by people seeing me playing at certain level. That’s what I expect out of everyone. You’re not going to look at Paul and see him slacking, not carrying his weight.
“All the other stuff, Paul doesn’t lead and all that? That’s fine. Go grab guys that lead, then. Let me help them lead. We didn’t get it done there, for whatever reason. But Paul not being assertive, Paul being a terrible leader?" George smiled with sarcasm. "I’ll take that. I had a great journey there. I tried to do my best. It just didn’t happen.”
“He said he hated we didn’t have an opportunity to work together (longer),” McMillan said. “He wanted change. I told him, ‘You had to make a man’s decision, and those decisions are always tough.’ I don’t hate that kid. I respect him. I respect his game. Talented player. Paul’s group was a good group, got us to the Eastern Conference finals (twice). Those were some good teams and good basketball. He made a decision he felt was best for both he and his family.”
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