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Lakers should trade No. 2 pick in NBA draft to Pacers for Paul George

There are some great prospects in this year’s class, but adding the four-time All-Star would be the best move for Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson should work on giving Paul George more than a wink now that his Los Angeles Lakers have the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA draft.

George is originally from the Los Angeles area, can become a free agent in 2018 and is rumored to be dreaming about coming home to be a Laker. On April 21, talk show host Jimmy Kimmel asked Johnson what he would do if he saw George on vacation in Los Angeles. In a light form of NBA tampering, the Los Angeles Lakers great and new president of basketball operations winked several times while offering his flirtatious answer about the Indiana Pacers star.

“We gonna say, ‘Hi,’ because we know each other. You just can’t say, ‘Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,’ even though I’ll be wink-winking like, ‘You know what that means right?’ ” Johnson said on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that night.

Johnson and the Lakers have found their opportunity to move forward on that flirtation with George by offering their newly acquired No. 2 overall draft pick to the handcuffed Pacers in exchange for the 27-year-old superstar.

The Lakers landed the second overall pick behind their hated rival Boston Celtics (the pick has since been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers) during Monday’s draft lottery. The NBA draft on June 22 is expected to be memorable, as it is loaded with possible superstar talent in the lottery. After the Celtics pick first, the Lakers will have four of the five heralded prospects available to select in Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, Kansas swingman Josh Jackson, Duke forward Jayson Tatum, UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball and Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox.

It will be hard for the Lakers to not be attracted to drafting local kid Ball, of UCLA and Big Baller Brand fame. But George is a much bigger baller.

“The upgrade is going to come at [No.] 2,” Johnson told media after the draft lottery. “I can’t tell you who that is going to be. We’re going to work them all out and decide. We just need more talent, and we got that tonight. That’s a steppingstone for us.”

With all due respect to the NBA prospects, George is the best possible talent and steppingstone for the Hall of Famer and his 16-time NBA champion Lakers with a win-thirsty fan base.

George averaged a career-high 23.7 points and shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range for the Pacers last season. The Lakers can hope that one of those stellar prospects could be as great as George, or Johnson and new general manager Rob Pelinka can develop a trade revolving around George.

It’s a safe bet that George won’t cry about becoming a Laker now, and he would be widely expected to re-sign. George told Kimmel this week that he loves Los Angeles, grew up a Lakers fan and plans to work out with Kobe Bryant this summer.

It’s a no-brainer for the Lakers to make a move for the four-time NBA All-Star, who could be their representative during the 2018 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

So, would the Pacers make such a trade?

George just finished the third season of a five-year, $91 million deal, but he can opt out of his contract after the 2017-18 season. Considering that George can just walk away from Indiana in 2018 for nothing, general manager Kevin Pritchard should seriously think about taking the Lakers’ No. 2 pick for George if Pelinka calls with a package. In the back of the Pacers’ mind should be the Oklahoma City Thunder, who lost superstar Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors for nothing in free agency last summer. The small-market Pacers must protect their future and would get a young, talented, cheaper and potential superstar replacement for George at small forward in Jackson and Tatum.

The Lakers should be adamant about keeping point guard D’Angelo Russell in such a George deal since he would complement the possible newcomer with his floor spacing from his shooting ability and passing skills. Perhaps the Pacers could get the No. 2 pick this year and the Lakers’ 2019 first-round pick too. Maybe Lakers combo guard Jordan Clarkson could be an attractive young addition to the Pacers as well.

The Lakers are known for having superstars, from Elgin Baylor to Jerry West to Wilt Chamberlain to Gail Goodrich to Magic Johnson to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal to Bryant. Even when the Lakers weren’t the championship-caliber Lakers in the mid-2000s, the scoring of Bryant still filled the Staples Center stands. Remember his 81-point game? Adding George brings a talent with Bryant-like scoring and athleticism to the Lakers that would also fill the seats in downtown Los Angeles. A George addition makes the Lakers an instant playoff contender and could also attract the notice of 2018 NBA free agents Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors and LaMarcus Aldridge.

“It was a good night for us,” Johnson said of the draft lottery. “Again, we’re headed in the right direction. It gives us a lot of flexibility because that is what we wanted.”

George changed his number from 24 to 13 before the 2014-15 season. What better place to be a star with the nickname “PG13” than near Hollywood as a member of the Lakers? It’s time for Johnson and the Lakers to turn that wink into a phone call to the Pacers.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.