The fan base of the Los Angeles Lakers is already doing the math.
Indiana Pacer forward Paul George will be a free agent effective at the end of next season.
The coveted 23-year-old superstar grew up in the North Valley just a long outlet pass from the Staples Center.
He lists Laker legend Kobe Bryant as his all-time favorite athlete.
And last, but certainly not least, Los Angeles has about the gross national product of Denmark (the team has just $11.8 million committed to the 2014-15 season) to spend next season after eight contracts come off of the books, including Bryant's $30.4 million deal.
But similar to not being able to read the tipoff time for a game properly, the Lakers fans are misguided in their belief that George is giddy at the thought of bolting the Midwest for SoCal.
“My heart is still in Indiana,” George told ESPN's Colin Cowherd Tuesday. “I kind of just bypass all of those rumors and the media trying to blow up stuff. I'm still a Pacer. Hopefully, I'll remain a Pacer. I'm happy where I'm at.”
And why shouldn't he be?
Indiana has an experienced front office with team president Larry Bird back in the fold, assisted by general manager Kevin Pritchard and consultant Donnie Walsh. The Lakers front office just lost its best player (free agent center Dwight Howard recently signed with Houston).
The Pacers have a great young coach in Frank Vogel, while very few believe Laker coach Mike D'Antoni will be on the job long term.
And with the return of injured forward Danny Granger, the Pacers will have four current or former All-Stars (Roy Hibbert and David West being the others along with George and Granger) in the lineup. The Lakers just lost Howard, forward Pau Gasol is a free agent after next season and who knows as to what level Bryant can return from an Achilles injury.
In addition to an excessive amount of talent, Indiana has an extraordinary chemistry among the players, which George said is unique in the NBA.
“I don't think in every organization, every player or everyone in that organization finds a way to talk with one another,” George said. “That's how we get along. Everyone (in Indiana) is so comfortable with one another; before our practices or our day starts everybody in our locker room has had a conversation with one another.
“We've got along or talked about something. We just make that communication clear amongst one another. I think that might be the biggest thing that makes us so close as teammates is that we enjoy one another's company outside of basketball.”
So in essence, the Pacers are the antithesis of the Lakers.
Los Angeles is in an easier – or perhaps less painful is a better description – position to secure George. The Lakers aren't terribly concerned with exceeding the NBA's salary cap (which results in an additional “luxury tax” being placed on the franchise), while the Pacers definitely do not have that luxury, no pun intended.
Indiana has committed nearly $35 million in salaries to Hibbert, West and point guard George Hill after next season, and that doesn't take into account awarding George a “maximum contract,” which will exceed $15 million annually, as well as resigning Granger, if that is even possible. Keeping this roster intact moving into the 2014-15 season will not be an easy task for Bird or team owner Herb Simon.
“I definitely want wins,” George said. “I want to be a champion. All of that should be in my future. That will be the case for if I want to leave or stay in Indiana. The only thing that would change (staying in Indiana) would be who is on the roster and who is with me.
“I know what I have with me now and that is more than enough to win a championship.”
George told Cowherd that talks between the club and himself are already underway.
“We've talked, but it's still early,” George said. “I think that we are on the same page. So it's mutual where we are.”
George is spending his offseason in Los Angeles and he admits to loving it. He said playing in front of family on a nightly basis would be special.
“Of course it would be tough,” George said of spurning the Lakers. “You're talking about playing at home, playing in L.A. That's what your family grew up on. It would be big as far as the family's favorite team.”
“It's about me and my career,” George said. “Where I'm at (in Indiana) would do the job for me.”
The Pacer organization has helped develop George from a skilled, yet raw athlete who averaged fewer than eight points per game three seasons ago to the face of the franchise (he averaged nearly 20 points per game this past postseason). And George believes that patience and diligence by the team should be rewarded.
“It's definitely not bad being in the position that I'm in,” George said. “But this is all about loyalty and that is what I'm strong on is being loyal.”