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Report: Clippers could be ‘calling [Paul George’s] bluff’ in contract talks report,clippers,could,be,calling,paul,george,s,bluff,in,contract,talks,liberty,ballers,front-page,76ers-analysis,76ers-free-agency-rumors-news

That’s a wrap on the NBA Season, and the dreaded Boston Celtics fans get to party in the streets for the 13th time since 1957.

If the Sixers want to beat a team with as much top-end firepower as the team that Danny Ainge (now with the Jazz, although he did most of the heavy lifting here), Mike Zarren and current President Brad Stevens have built, they’re going to need major reinforcements.

The name at the top of Daryl Morey’s wishlist is Clippers’ star Paul George. PG has a player option for the coming season worth $48.7M.

But we heard reports earlier this season that Steve Ballmer, by far the NBA’s richest owner worth an estimated $129.7B, was hesitant to allow his front office to offer PG more money than Kawhi Leonard on a potential extension.

Leonard, the two-time NBA Finals MVP, is the Clippers best player when healthy. But as Sixers fans know all too well, that “when healthy” distinction is kind of a big asterisk. PG, now 34, isn’t exactly an exemplar of perfect health himself, but he was the safer bet than Leonard to be healthy by playoff time. And he seems like the safer bet for the next three-four seasons as well.

On ESPN’s “Get UP” Monday, insider Brian Windhorst speculated on the latest from Clipperville:

“What is interesting to me is that is that the Clippers are very aware that somebody is going to offer [George] a four-year max contract. Whether that’s the 76ers or the Magic or a team could even trade for him. But there’s another thing with Paul George that I want to point out. He has an option in his contract. It’s known as ‘The Chris Paul Move.’ Where you come to a team and say ‘I’m either going to sign with this team over here, or you’re gonna pick up my option and trade me there.’ So even if you don’t have cap space, a team for example, like the New York Knicks. Okay, if they wanted Paul George they could say ‘okay, you could come to us, we’ll trade for you.’ You don’t have to sign him outright. Clippers know all this is gonna go on. And yet they’re still not making this offer. They’re still not [inaudible] to do this. And so if you get to July 1st, and the Clippers have done this, they’re gonna play hardball, that’s when you know he’s truly gonna be in the market. I suspect the Clippers read, at least on June 17th, is that they’re calling his bluff. They don’t actually think he’s gonna leave his hometown of L.A. to go to Philly or Orlando or some thing like that.”

This stalemate would seem to have begun back in January.

The Clippers essentially drew a line in the sand implying PG wasn’t deserving of what Kawhi was (three years, $152M) received last January, offering him less on an extension. PG wisely scoffed at the insulting, paltry bid. Now that miscalculation may bite them.

If George opts out, he is eligible to sign a four-year deal (the NBA’s “Over 38” rule forbids teams from offering him a fifth year) max deal worth up to roughly $221.1M. Possessing George’s Bird Rights, the Clips can offer the nine-time All-Star 8 percent raises, while all other teams can only offer 5 percent raises.

That means the Sixers can “only” offer George $212.5M over the same deal. Still, it’s only an $8.6M difference.

As one might expect in any ongoing negotiation, the PG-to-Philly barometer has swung a few times lately. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski back in May reported that, “The Clippers are determined to keep Paul George and James Harden in free agency, and the organization will move into the new, state-of-the-art Intuit Dome for the start of next season.”

But Windy is, more recently at least, singing a different tune.

Examining that Chris Paul opt-in-and-trade scenario (the kind Daryl Morey, while in Houston, once famously executed to rescue Chris Paul from Doc Rivers the Clips), with an expanding salary cap, it does seem PG could make more money long-term by opting in.

But he’d have to wait six months, and if any player knows that catastrophic injuries can occur, it’s PG, who broke his leg in multiple places back in 2014 during USA Team play.

If I were deciding between $212M today or waiting I’m not sure I’d want to risk playing from November through January for the additional ~$12M. Additionally, PG could learn the “Carmelo Anthony” lesson, and try to avoid depleting whichever new team he wants to play for of precious draft assets they’d need later to beat the Celtics.

So the best news here is that it appears the Clippers are still playing hardball with George. They’ve done nothing to suggest thus far that they feel he’s worth every penny of a max deal. As stellar as the quintessential triple-threat-3-and-D wing has been, with a new arena set to open, deciding he couldn’t make as much as Leonard, now trying to catch a bluff? It’s all pretty weird. Imagine how Kawhi would feel if they wound up letting him walk for nothing in return?

Is there any chance they’re pulling a bit of a 2023 version of the Morey-with-Harden, and sending these silent signals in hopes he opts in, so that they can make a blockbuster move? Unlike Beard, PG has max offers elsewhere tempting him not to do that.

The less good news for the Sixers here is this idea that PG could ultimately make more money by opting in, which could give him incentive to listen to pitches from contenders without cap space. Yuck.

The Sixers can spend up to $65M in cap. But if other teams can trade for him — with plans to extend him come January for even more than the max he’ll command in July — well, you can see the problem there. Miami? Cleveland? New York?

George, a CAA client shares an agent with Knicks’ star Jalen Brunson. The Knicks have been linked to PG in some reports too.

If PG felt Brunson is a safer bet than Embiid to be healthy come next year’s playoffs… maybe that throws a monkeywrench in the works for Morey — even if things fall apart with PG and the Clips.

But let’s focus on the good news for today. The Clippers appear to think that PG won’t leave, they certainly aren’t rolling out any red carpets like Morey is, and are perhaps “calling a bluff.” That would, I’d argue, mark the second time they’ve insulted him in five months. First, by deciding he’s not worth what Leonard was last January, and again now, knowing that other teams are prepared to drop a full stack, while they quibble over an amount that equates to about 0.17% of Ballmer’s total net worth.

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