George's Trade Request Felt Like a "Gut-Punch" to Pritchard

What does it feel like when your star player, who for months had given you the impression he wants to stay put and help build a winning team, suddenly sends word through his agent that he wants out?

"A gut-punch," Kevin Pritchard said. "A total gut-punch."

The Pacers' President of Basketball Operations spoke with the media for the first time Thursday about Paul George's desire to leave the Pacers and finish his career elsewhere, preferably in Los Angeles with the Lakers. George's agent, Aaron Mintz, called Pritchard on Friday to inform him of that desire, just one day after Pritchard had talked amicably with George at a celebrity softball game and George gave no indication of wanting out.

The request from his forward – a four-time All-Star, Olympic gold medalist and seven-year veteran who averaged 23.7 points last season – 28 points in the playoffs – presents a major challenge for Pritchard, who took over the Pacers' presidency in April.

The fact it leaked to the media, diminishing Pritchard's leverage because everyone knows of George's desire, makes it worse. The fact it leaked just six days before the draft made it that much more difficult to involve George in a draft-related deal.

"It couldn't have come at a worse time for me," Pritchard said. "Had we known this a while ago we could have been more prepared. And then the way it got out...we struggled with that."

Pritchard said he has no timetable for dealing George, and is willing to be patient – even if that means waiting beyond the start of training camp.

"Right now, he's on our team," said Pritchard, who has not spoken directly with George since Mintz phoned in the request. "We have a lot of things still ongoing. We looked at a lot of things that included the draft picks, but at the end of the day there's so much other stuff that doesn't include draft picks that we decided to stay put."

Pritchard doesn't believe he'll have to take pennies on the dollar to satisfy George's request, given the quality of offers he has received so far.

"As the days have gone on, it feels people are getting a little more aggressive," he said. "I think we can come out all right."

Pritchard is open to various trade strategies, depending on what he determines to be the best offer. He could do a deal that brings future draft picks and enter a rebuilding period, or take a veteran player or players and remain in a win-now mode.

The Pacers struggled to make the playoffs last season, but were energized by the arrival of Lance Stephenson for the final six games and won their final five. They were competitive against Cleveland in the playoffs, losing four games by a total of 16 points.

George, in his end-of-season exit interview with Pritchard, talked about the team's needs, and Pritchard had other conversations with him regarding specific acquisitions and style of play.

"We had multiple conversations, we talked about players we wanted to add to this team, and it felt like we were in agreement on that," Pritchard said. "Not that a player dictates that, but I wanted him to (give) some feedback. We had conversations about players and how we want to go forward. So, for me it was a shock."

The Pacers had conversations regarding George with some teams before the trade deadline in February, but initiated none of them, Pritchard said. At that time, George had been vague about his future intentions but also was still talking optimistically about a future in Indiana.

Can the Pacers make as favorable a deal now as then?

"Oh, I don't know about that," Pritchard said. "We had some deals (in February), but we weren't diving into it. It's hard to tell."

As shocked and betrayed as he felt over George's request, Pritchard doesn't plan to make a deal out of spite. And he believes he'll find one he likes.

"You've got to get past mad," he said. "(George) has his own perspective of the situation and I try to see that through his eyes. I can be empathetic because he wants to go back home (to Los Angeles, an hour from where he grew up). I have to get past mad. We will make good decisions around here.

"The one thing I can tell you, it wasn't like the deal flow (this week) was one. It felt like 29, really, and it was coming at us fast. But today we didn't feel like we could get a deal done. I'm confident that we can in the future."

"It's not ideal," he added, "but we didn't put ourselves in this. He did."

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