Last summer it looked like the Indiana Pacers constructed a solid team, adding Jeff Teague, Al Jefferson, and Thaddeus Young. They looked really good on paper, and it appeared that they could be a top four Eastern Conference team. However, the team failed to build chemistry and was highly inconsistent throughout the season. Late in the season, they signed Lance Stephenson after waiving injured guard Rodney Stuckey, and the Pacers suddenly started playing better basketball.

Stephenson sparked the team with his defense and energy, which is exactly what the Pacers needed.

They secured the seventh seed in the East to earn a first-round tangle with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite getting swept 4-0, the series was much closer than it seemed. The Pacers lost the series by a total of 16 points, combining the loss margin of all four games. They battled hard, but it wasn’t enough to overpower LeBron James and the Cavs.

The bottom line is that they just suffered another early playoff exit, which may not bode well for superstar Paul George. George told reporters that it’s way too soon to think about his future at this point, but all year long rumors have swirled around the league that George is likely to leave the team in the near future.

Paul George’s future

George’s future obviously depends on the success of the franchise’s offseason.

The Pacers were rather active last summer, making underrated moves but the fit was not exactly what they expected. Realistically, George will stay put to see what Larry Bird and the front office can do during free agency. He will most likely play out at least half the season to evaluate the progress of the team before asking to be traded.

George obviously has the power to demand a trade, and the Pacers will have no choice but to grant his wish because they could lose him for nothing in the summer of 2018. However, the team’s number one priority right now will be to obtain more help for George.

Other free agents

Jeff Teague, who was an essential part of the team’s success, will become a free agent this summer.

Indiana’s focus will be to re-sign him first before adding other players to the roster. Meanwhile, C.J. Miles has a player option, which he may decline to become an unrestricted free agent. If that happens, the Pacers may allow him to walk. Aaron Brooks is the only other key free agent for Indiana, and he could be retained for a cheap price if the Pacers want to keep him.

The Lance Stephenson effect

It will be most interesting to see how the Pacers do next season with Lance Stephenson on the roster from beginning to end. He changed the culture in just a short time and should continue to spark the team next season. Perhaps Stephenson is the key to George remaining with the franchise.