He took some solid steps in that direction last season, and his impressive play against LeBron James and the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals served as his coming out party of sorts. But, he still has a while to go before he is on LeBron’s level.
Heading into his fourth season in Indiana, George certainly seems poised to continue the climb up the steps towards superstardom, and he’s built up quite a buzz around his skills since the Pacers were pushed out of the Playoffs.
The Pacers predict that George will continue his climb to superstar status, and rewarded him with a max-level, $80 million contract; the type that is usually reserved for superstars.The fact that Paul is going to be a Pacer for several more seasons is exciting to fans in Indiana, who look at the success their team had last season and expect bigger and better things from a more matured team. While the expectations are expected, and the Pacers look promising, the fact remains that the Pacers will go about as far as Paul can push them, and his new deal really limits their future flexibility.
|Image from Indystar.com|
If George is able to develop into the perennial all-star that people are predicting, then the future flexibility becomes less concerning as George should be able to keep them in contention. However, the Pacers’ playoff success last season wasn’t based on just one guy, but rather their well-balanced approach. The frontcourt of Hibbert and David West patrolled the paint on both ends of the floor, Hill and Augustin made the necessary plays and passes, Lance Stephenson provided additional energy, Danny Granger sat on the sidelines, wishing he could contribute to his team. In short, the Pacers found success as a cohesive unit, and although maxing-out George seems smart, it is also a gamble.
When LeBron James got his max deal in Miami he was already an established superstar. The Heat knew that signing James would severely limit the players they could bring in or re-sign down the road, but his apparent talent was worth that trade-off. George, while he appears well on his way, is not yet at that level. Still though, his new contract means that the Pacers likely won’t be able to re-sign the talented Granger and the energetic Stephenson when the time comes. They will also be very limited in what they can offer future free agents.
In short, the Pacers are all in on Paul George. Sure, he has Hibbert for help, and David West will be around for a couple more years, but their additional options are limited down the line. If they want to continue to improve and continue to be among the East’s elite, then they need to continue to depend on George’s development. If Paul plateaus however, and never quite reaches that projected superstar status, then last season’s Eastern Conference Finals may have been the peak of these Pacers.