Clippers talking in measured tones about Paul George’s future

The biggest news for the Clippers on Thursday wasn’t the drafting of Minnesota guard Cam Christie in the second round at No. 46, but the uncertainty of Paul George and his future with the team.

George has a player option for $48.7 million and has to let the Clippers know by Saturday whether he’ll opt in on his deal.

George can become a free agent if he and the Clippers are unable to come to an agreement on an extension before Sunday. He’s eligible to get a four-year deal worth $221 million from the Clippers before that date, something George is seeking.

So far, the two sides have not been able to get a deal done.

“We love Paul,” said Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations. “We very much want to retain Paul, but we also very much understand and respect the fact this is a business and players have a finite amount of time to be able to not just make the most amount of money, but to be able to pursue whatever they want.

“We hope Paul’s decision is to be here. He’s been awesome. He’s been an All-Star three of the five years. He’s one of the best two-way players in the league. He’s a terrific person. He’s got a great family, so we hope he’s here. But also respect the fact that if he chooses to opt out, that’s his choice. He’s earned it and we’ll see how things play out.”

When Kawhi Leonard agreed during the regular season to a three-year contract extension with the Clippers for $152 million, the team had extension conversations with George, 34, about a similar deal.

No deal was reached.

The Clippers are currently a second-apron team, which makes it very prohibitive for them to make deals under the new collective bargaining agreement rules.

Clippers star Paul George looks up at a video board during a game against Minnesota in March.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“When your better players are in their 30s and you’re trying to build a sustainable roster, it impacts it,” Frank said. “It’s not even about the money as it is: How are you going to build a sustainable roster, maintain your tools to have transactional flexibility? And with that comes really, really hard decisions and we totally respect the fact that, look, deals get made when they make sense for both sides. We’re hopeful that we can find a deal with any player we negotiate with that we want both sides to feel good about and respect the fact that for each of our players they’re going to have choices. They’ve earned it and they have to make the most sense for them.”

The Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic, teams with salary-cap space, have interest in George and can offer him up to $212 million over four years.

The Golden State Warriors have been linked to George as well, according to people not authorized to speak on the matter.

For the Warriors, George would have to opt in on his deal for next season for a trade to work.

Frank also mentioned that Leonard still has plans on playing for Team USA in the Olympics and the forward will report for the start of training camp in Las Vegas on July 6.

Leonard had played in just two of the Clippers’ six first-round playoff games against the Mavericks, missing four because of inflammation in his right knee.

But Frank said Leonard has been working out and is looking forward to playing in the Paris Olympics.

“Kawhi very much intends to and all his training has been towards that,” Frank said. “This is from the time that he was selected to the Olympic team. He was extremely happy and prideful. This is an opportunity he’s wanted for a long time, so he’s rehabbing and coming back, but his whole focus coming back from the injury is to get healthy and his intent is to play for the Olympics. That’s very much what he wants. And so every day his rehab and what he’s doing, whether it’s in the performance room or whether it’s on the court, it’s focused on getting back healthy and is very, very hopeful that it coincides with the Olympics.”

Frank said the Clippers talked to James Harden about a contract as well, but the two sides haven’t agreed on anything.

Harden made $35.6 million last season.

“So, we very much want James to remain a Clipper and hope he decides to do the same,” Frank said.

Russell Westbrook ($4.027 million) and P.J. Tucker ($11.5 million) have player’s options and also have to let the Clippers know by Saturday of their decisions.

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