INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off a surprise trade to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers on June 30, the Cleveland Cavaliers thought they had a done deal in place to nab the four-time All-Star.
Nearly a month later, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert still doesn’t seem to be over it.
“I will say that Indiana could’ve done better than it did,” Gilbert said Wednesday, when asked about the failed trade during new Cavs general manager Koby Altman’s introductory news conference.
The Cavs, Pacers and Denver Nuggets had a conference call that afternoon. The Cavs believed they had a tentative agreement on a deal that would have sent George to Cleveland, Kevin Love to Denver and Gary Harris and other pieces to Indiana. The Pacers, however, dispute there was ever an agreement, sources told ESPN.
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The trade talks advanced enough that plans were put in place for George and Gilbert to have a phone call to talk about the forward’s place in the Cavs franchise. However, Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard came back and told the sides the Pacers were out, in part because of a disagreement on the protection of a first-round pick that was headed to Indiana in the deal, sources said.
Shortly thereafter, Indiana sent George to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
Altman — who was acting as the Cavs’ de facto interim GM at that time, after the departure of his former boss, David Griffin — did not reveal as much as Gilbert did.
“That’s been well-publicized,” Altman said of the George deal that fell through. “I don’t want to talk about that. What’s interesting is, over the course of the NBA draft, there’s 60 picks. In the first round, there’s five minutes between picks. I probably made 200 phone calls that night, and none of that gets publicized. We’re actively trying to get better and discover what opportunities that are out there. It’s the ones that sort of don’t make it to the media that are the ones you’re more crushed about.
“So, we’re very active during that time. Also, we’re aggressive in trying to figure out how can we get better for this organization. So, I’m not going to talk about that specific trade, but know that we were active during that time and every team in the NBA was active during that time, trying to help their respective franchises.”
Gilbert endorsed Altman as someone with the requisite ties around the league to drum up future trade opportunities such as the one Cleveland missed out on with Indiana.
“I can’t tell you how important it is to have [strong] relationships around the league,” Gilbert said. “What’s a little bit surprising, I’ve been doing it 12 years now as an owner, I guess, but how many deals in the league actually get done because there’s relationships between the front office of our franchise and another one? Because sometimes there will be a trade or something that happens and we’ll say, ‘Did we even get an at-bat? Did we even get to talk to them?’ It’s not like you can say, ‘Let me go out to some auction site and see if there’s any NBA teams that can get better deals.’
“A lot of this is relationship-driven, and what we have here is one of the best relationship guys in the league [in Altman]. I think you can feel that and see that, and I think you will see a bunch of that.”