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Paul George's All-NBA shortfall paved way for a cavalcade of speculation

Paul George is still embracing Kobe Bryant. (AP)

Trade rumors and free-agency speculation have followed Paul George throughout his penultimate contract year, but now that we know he was left off the All-NBA rosters — thus lessening his financial incentive to re-sign with the Indiana Pacers — the rumors and speculation have gone into overdrive.

The Atlanta Hawks desperately wanted George, Damian Lillard endorsed a deal for him now, the Los Angeles Lakers are biding their time for his services, and there may or may not be mutual interest between George and both the Lakers and Boston Celtics. And we learned all that in the last 24 hours.

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We’ll begin the deluge with the news that the Hawks offered the Pacers four first-round picks for George this past February, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. Current Indiana president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard may well regret that his predecessor, Larry Bird, did not pull the trigger on that deal, based on the rest of the discussion centered around George on Thursday.

While Lillard made it fairly clear he wouldn’t mind seeing George in a Portland Trail Blazers uniform …

Damian Lillard seconded this fan’s suggestion that the Blazers go after Paul George. (Twitter)

… joining teammate C.J. McCollum in that regard …

C.J. McCollum is on the Paul George train, too. (Twitter)

… George now seems more likely than ever to play this season out with the Pacers and enter free agency in 2018. Any extension he could sign with Indiana this summer will pale in comparison to the five-year, $207 million designated player exception he could’ve signed had he made an All-NBA team.

This has led to rampant speculation about George’s relationship with the Lakers. USA Today’s Sam Amick doubled down on his report from February that George, a Los Angeles native who grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant, “is hell-bent on heading for Laker Land.” Amick reported on Thursday that George was already considering a move to LA in 2018, even if a super-max offer was on the table:

According to a person with knowledge of George’s thinking who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation, the money doesn’t matter nearly as much to him as most might assume. Yes, there’s a gap of more than $70 million between the five-year deal the Pacers could have given George and the four-year deal he could get from other teams in free agency next summer. And yes, the possibility still exists that — if George made an All-NBA team next season — the Pacers could still give him a supermax next offseason (or, of course, run the massive risk of losing him for nothing in free agency).

But after making it all the way back from his horrific leg break in the summer of 2014, and threatening to unseat the great LeBron James in those back-to-back Heat-Pacers conference finals, George finds himself more focused on legacy than ever. And whether it’s realistic or not, the 27-year-old who grew up idolizing Bryant in Palmdale, Calif. clearly believes he can lift the Lakers out of the darkness. The question now, it seems, is whether the Lakers will have the necessary patience and prudence on their end to make the most of their situation.

While it may seem unlikely that anyone would walk away from a five-year, $207 million extension to sign a four-year, $132 million offer elsewhere, someone in George’s camp is making it clear to anyone listening that the threat is there. This could have serious ramifications for any team that may have considered trading for George in hopes of re-signing him next summer. (Even without the DPE, his incumbent team could still offer over five years and $177 million — or $45 million more than other suitors.)

That’s because LA looms as George’s preferred destination. As The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Thursday, “For the Lakers, they are pretty confident and have a great deal of belief that they’re in position to get Paul George in 2018 whether he stays in Indiana or he’s traded elsewhere.”

Obviously, there’s tremendous incentive for the Lakers to convince every other team interested in George that they should not trade for him. They don’t want to find themselves in a situation where they’re competing against a team like the Celtics, who have the means to acquire him and might be able to convince him to stay because of their ability to contend for a championship with him.

This cryptic nothing response …

… which George tweeted and then deleted, only raised further questions about his stated desire to play for a contender. In the post, Paul Pierce is quoted saying on Wednesday’s episode of “The Jump”:

“You trade this pick, because [Markelle Fultz] cannot help the Celtics get over the top. The window is now. You’re a 50-win team, you’re the No. 1 seed. You have to build on this momentum. If you can acquire a Paul George, Jimmy Butler or Gordon [Hayward] from Utah, you have to do it.”

All of this comes on the heels of George telling Jimmy Kimmel he will be working out with Kobe Bryant this summer — the same Kobe who Magic Johnson is planning to lure back to the Lakers’ front office.

Asked by Kimmel if he’s talked to Bryant about coming to the Lakers, George said, “Not yet. Not yet.” Only a few weeks earlier, Magic admitted to Kimmel that he really wants George on the Lakers.

So, yeah, don’t expect the rumors and speculation to subside between now and next offseason. In the meantime, don’t expect anybody to be offering the Pacers four first-round picks for their star again.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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