Fare Thee Well, Paul George

No personal foul: The Pacers couldn’t win a championship with PG, and they won’t win one without him.

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Paul George in the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

In the name of full disclosure, I genuinely like Paul George. I like him not because he does neat dunk shots and/or has his own line of Nike sneakers, but rather because my kids like him a great deal and he has always been friendly with them in their rare, brief encounters. There are other reasons, yes, but those will do for now.

Perhaps the irrational #DadFan in me has clouded my judgment. Perhaps that’s why I cannot whip myself into a butthurt fury over his decision to (in effect) never again play for the Pacers. Or maybe I’m just too old and too burdened with life’s non-basketball-related worries.

There is, however, that sour tinge of OH YOU’RE TOO GOOD FOR INDIANAPOLIS? distaste, don’t get me wrong. That is woven into our city’s DNA and it always will be. That is who we are. We have a rather profound civic inferiority complex here—which is why when we receive a “Best Small Airport” award from some weird travel magazine every other week, we retweet the hell out of that thing.

Paul George leaving for a bigger stage does not sit well with our insecurities. Fair enough. I get that.

In the end, though, what does it matter? What does it matter for the trajectory of the Pacers as an organization? That is not a rhetorical question. And here is the very not-rhetorical answer:

Not much. It doesn’t matter a whole lot, really, as far as the Pacers are concerned.

This is the new NBA world we’re living in. It’s Warriors World, more or less—a world filled with one mega-superpower, two or three garden-variety superpowers, and 26 or so Guatemalas without an army or modern infrastructure.

The Pacers, with or without Paul George, are a Guatemala. There is no escaping that truth. So, too, are the Bulls, Pistons, Bucks, Hornets, Heat, Hawks, and every other team without a roster comprised of multiple future Hall-of-Famers. That is the reality of the NBA in 2017. The likes of Paul George and Myles Turner and Jeff Teague—good players all, arguably very good under the right circumstances—get swept from the Playoffs like a dead housefly from the pantry. So, too, do the Raptors—with an even more talented roster than the Pacers—and also every team out West who was unfortunate enough to wander through the Warriors’ kill zone.

For good or ill, the first three rounds of the NBA Playoffs are now nothing but a string of post-season exhibition games—an annoying, two-month formality with a predetermined end point. And they will continue to be so for the next few years.

So let Paul do Paul, you guys. Who cares? The Pacers, with or without him, aren’t going to the NBA Finals anytime soon. He knows that. And instead of blaming his departure on a vague generational mindset, blame it on the system that murdered NBA parity and whatever chances the Pacers had for another Reggie Miller Era–like run of Playoff successes.

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