The Los Angeles Lakers are among the teams to have inquired about the availability of Indiana Pacers star forward Paul George in recent days, according to league sources.
While the conversation didn't go beyond an initial expression of interest -- which is common in the NBA in advance of the trade deadline -- it's notable simply for the names involved: New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and Pacers president Larry Bird, lifelong rivals and close friends, were on the phone together.
In his first full day in charge, after Tuesday's stunning promotion from an advisory role in the wake of the twin dismissals of longtime Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss, Johnson arrived at the Lakers' offices early Wednesday to work the trade phones and, yes, throw in a call to Bird.
USA Today reported Wednesday that George recently met with Pacers owner Herb Simon to expound face-to-face on what he told ESPN's Marc Stein last week during All-Star festivities on ESPN Radio: George still longs to lead Indiana to its first NBA championship but wants to know he is part of a title-contending roster before committing to a lucrative contract extension this summer.
Sources confirmed to ESPN in the wake of that meeting that Indiana has since invited teams such as the Lakers and Boston Celtics to make pitches for George in advance of Thursday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. The Pacers, at the same time, also continue to pursue roster upgrades of their own, after ESPN's Chris Haynes reported last week that the Pacers have made their first-round pick in the June draft available in trade conversations in hopes of strengthening George's supporting cast.
Sources told Haynes on Thursday that some teams are apprehensive to pursue George, believing he would sign a long-term deal only with the Pacers and Lakers.
Johnson has wasted little time getting busy since he was handed control of basketball operations by Lakers president and co-owner Jeanie Buss, quickly sealing a trade Tuesday afternoon with the Houston Rockets for a future first-round pick and veteran swingman Corey Brewer in exchange for high-scoring guard Lou Williams.
League sources told Stein that the Lakers were also seeking a quality second-round pick from teams interested in veteran shooting guard Nick Young.
Johnson addressed the Lakers' players and coaches when they reported for Wednesday's practice at 1 p.m. local time.
"Magic came down and talked to the team," Lakers coach Luke Walton said. "He wanted to come down and, first of all, say hi to everyone and let them know that he's here to support and be there for them. It was a quick meeting, but it's good to get in front of each other."
"It was a strange day, because I am very close with Jimmy and Mitch and I really enjoyed working with them," Walton continued. "I had great talks with both of them on the telephone afterward. They were both very supportive. Both gave the message of continue to work, keep working with the young guys. It was definitely a little sad. I think it's important to remember all the great things they did when they were here too.
"Then, on the other hand, you have Earvin coming in and he's in there and he's making phone calls. It was great to work with him. It was a unique, interesting day in terms of the emotions going on. But the main thing everyone talked about was, 'We have a job to do still.'"
As for the possibility of more trades from the Lakers before the deadline, sources said Johnson is far more likely to move a veteran such as Young or Jose Calderon than anyone from L.A.'s young core.
A trade for George, who grew up a huge Lakers fan in nearby Palmdale, California, is considered unlikely at this point. The initial conversation between Johnson and Bird, sources said, never got beyond pleasantries.
Sources said numerous interested teams around the league, furthermore, believe the Pacers have been fielding calls on George in recent days more to get a detailed read of the market for potential down-the-road deals, as opposed to a serious intent to trade George this week.
The Celtics, however, are widely known to be eager to trade for either George or the Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler. So the possibility remains that a strong offer from Boston on deadline day spurs the Pacers into trading George sooner than they ever imagined.
But the Indiana star gave little indication, after the Pacers' first practice coming out of the All-Star break, that he expects a deal this week.
"I have no concerns," George told local reporters. "I'm here. I practiced today. My head is not wrapped around that. I've got a team to turn around in the second half, and that's what I'm committed to."
George is scheduled to become a free agent in the summer of 2018. In last week's interview with Stein, when asked about the possibility of signing a contract extension of more than $200 million that Indiana is expected to offer him this summer, George said: "As I told Larry, I always want to play on a winning team. I always want to be part of a team that has a chance to win it [all]. That's important. ... I want a chance to play for a chance to win a championship."
The Pacers lost six straight games entering the All-Star break. They sit sixth in the Eastern Conference at 29-28.
ESPN first reported earlier this week that the Philadelphia 76ers' Jahlil Okafor was among the targets Bird has pursued to fortify the roster around George, Myles Turner and Jeff Teague.
Indiana can't offer George one of the league's new designated player extensions -- in excess of $200 million, in this case -- unless he makes one of the league's three All-NBA teams this season. The 26-year-old, having recovered admirably from the gruesome leg fracture he suffered on Team USA duty in the summer of 2014, is averaging 22.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game this season.