The Los Angeles Lakers are biding their time until they can make their official pitch to new Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George, sitting out of the trade market and shifting their focus to free agency in 2018.
The Lakers’ front office is banking on George wanting to come home to Los Angeles when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, but until then he’ll be building up his rapport with Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. That’s something he’s approaching with an open mind, as George told Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated in an insightful feature.
“I’m in OKC, so hopefully me and Russ do a good enough job and make it to the conference finals and love the situation, why not recruit someone to come build it with us? I’m open in this whole process,” George told Jenkins.
George being “open” to what may unfold with a team that traded for him was one of the risks involved with the Lakers waiting for their chance to sign him outright. A team like the Boston Celtics, who just made the Eastern Conference finals, could have raised their chances on retaining him with a taste of winning at the highest level. What will the Thunder do with their new duo?
That’s something George elaborated on further, noting that success on par with a trip to the conference finals or eliminating the Golden State Warriors would be enough to make him want to stay in Oklahoma City (via Sports Illustrated):
“For me, it’s all about winning. I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning. I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
Another complicated part of the equation is Westbrook’s potential free agency in 2018 as well, but that’s the dice roll the Thunder made when they acquired George with a relatively painless package for the chance they’re getting.
What’s clear is this is a fluid situation now, and much of George’s motivation to stay with the Thunder will be based on results. Winning was the biggest thing George reiterated throughout the profile, and that included his thoughts on a future with the Lakers.
George indicated that he’s not interested in joining the Lakers as a lone star on a young team, but as a part of something bigger (via Sports Illustrated):
“There will always be a tie here, a connection here. People saying I want to come here, who doesn’t want to play for their hometown? That’s a dream come true, if you’re a kid growing up on the outskirts of L.A., to be the man in your city. But it’s definitely been overstated.”...
George will get four eyefuls this season of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and the young Lakers. Superficial measurements will matter far less than max slots and won-loss records. “It’s too early for L.A.,” he says. “It would have to be a situation where the ball gets rolling and guys are hopping on. This guy commits, that guy commits. ‘Oh s---, now there’s a team forming.’ It has to be like that.”
The Lakers are certainly hoping they have a situation where the Ball gets rolling, and have clearly held onto their plans of shooting for the stars in the summer of 2018. They’ve yet to sign a player through the first 11 days of free agency, and reports indicate they’re mostly offering large-sum one-year contracts to players they are interested in.
Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have been guiding the franchise to a scenario where they sign multiple max-level free agents next summer, and that’s the exact kind of situation that George is outlining. The Lakers can’t control the success of the Lakers or George’s interest in staying, but they can create the most attractive
That, along with a season of the Lakers’ young core developing and showing their value, could go a long way in a pitch to George and whatever other star free agent may bounce their way. LeBron James rumors have already been running rampant, so it’s lining up to be an insane offseason next time around.
For now, all sides are regrouping. The Lakers are on track to spend a season evaluating the team they’ve constructed and culture they’re rebuilding. George gets to see how it feels to play for another team, with another star player, in Oklahoma City.
For more on the George rumors and an interview with Thomas Bryant, listen to the latest episode of Locked on Lakers below: