To the delight of Los Angeles Lakers fans everywhere, the Oklahoma City Thunder were knocked out of the NBA playoffs in the first round by the Utah Jazz on Friday. With the Thunder finally out of the playoffs, the Paul George sweepstakes is unofficially underway.
While the Lakers can’t meet with George until the free agency moratorium period, starting July 1, they no longer have to worry about a potential deep playoff run by the Thunder swaying George too far one way heading into the summer. However, despite the Thunder’s underwhelming first-round exit, it doesn’t sound like George has ruled out returning to Oklahoma City for at least one more season.
“It’s tough,” George said in his exit interview on Saturday. “I haven’t been in the position to be a free agent or know what that is like, and then to have the chance to go where you want to go. That’s always been, I feel, what players want ... but then you get to an organization where they check the boxes on all of the things you want out of an organization and then immediately they become a candidate for where you want to play long-term. That’s been the case here.”
The Thunder weren’t considered favorites to re-sign George by any stretch of the imagination when they traded for him in June. Prior to the trade, reports leaked that George was planning on opting out of his contract in 2018 with the Lakers as his preferred destination in free agency.
For those keeping track: it’s 2018 and the Lakers are one of few teams with the necessary cap space to sign George to a max deal in free agency. Go figure.
But George assured reporters on Saturday that while he sees the appeal in playing in his hometown, it won’t be the sole reason he signs with a team in free agency.
“I would say almost everybody in this league would love to play at home,” George said. “I won’t say that’s a lie. Everybody would love to play for their home in one way or another, but that won’t be the only option for why I want to go somewhere, is because it’s home. Not at all.”
The Lakers haven’t had luck with free agents over the past few years because outside of living in Los Angeles, they couldn’t offer much. This time, however, the warm summers, palm trees, and In-N-Out burgers might work in their favor, so long as they have a package built around basketball as well.
George said he plans on taking the next few months to “decompress” and get healthy, but as July gets closer, expect more news to trickle out from George or his camp on his plans in free agency.
Quotes were transcribed via The Oklahoman. You can follow Christian on Twitter @RadRivas.