INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Pritchard struggled to make the deal.
Eventually, he figured dealing Paul George was the best way to protect the Indiana Pacers.
On Thursday, Pritchard finally made the blockbuster trade official by announcing the four-time All-Star was heading to Oklahoma City in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
“It was difficult both on a personal and professional level,” Pritchard said in a statement issued by the team. “Everyone here knows what Paul meant to this franchise; he was both a tremendous human being as well as player here for seven years. We thank Paul and his family for their contributions to the Pacers and wish him well.”
George essentially forced the move when word leaked that he intended to leave the team as a free agent next summer just before the NBA draft.
That disclosure put the Pacers in a bind: Build around George for one final run at an NBA title, lose their star player and get nothing in return or shop George for the best deal they could find with his public plans hurting his trade value. Pritchard called the news a “gut punch” during last month’s draft. He hasn’t spoken to reporters since then, but under NBA rules the deal could be announced Thursday.
“We feel very strongly about the potential Victor and Domantas bring to our team and what they mean for the future of the franchise,” Pritchard said. “Both are highly competitive, highly skilled and both are winners. That is why both were lottery picks. That is why we sought them out to be part of this deal.”
Oladipo could become an instant fan favorite in what is now becoming a major rebuilding project.
The former Indiana Hoosiers star was selected No. 2 overall by the Orlando Magic in the 2013 draft. He was on the league’s all-rookie first team that season and has averaged 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists over his four-year career. The 6-foot-4 guard is expected to start next season in a backcourt that also will include Lance Stephenson and Darren Collison, who is expected to sign as a free agent.
Indiana’s backcourt got a little thinner Thursday when Pritchard waived backup Monta Ellis and his $11 million salary. Ellis spent two seasons in Indiana, but lost his starting job last season and had been suspended for the first five games of next season for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy.
The Pacers also are expected to lose starting point guard Jeff Teague to Minnesota on a three-year deal worth $57 million. Teague averaged 15.3 points and a career-high 7.8 assists for Indiana last season.
Sabonis made 66 starts in his rookie season and averaged 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds after being chosen No. 11 in the 2016 draft. But none of the Pacers newcomers are expected to match George’s productivity individually, and third-year center Myles Turner and Oladipo are expected to be the cornerstones of Indiana’s revamped team.
George finishes his career in Indiana with averages of 18.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.7 steals. He was named the league’s most improved player in 2012-13, was selected to the all-NBA third team three times, won an Olympic gold medal and was regarded as one of the league’s best two-way players. He also drew national acclaim for his strong comeback after suffering a horrifying broken right leg during a Team USA scrimmage in August 2014.