In less than two months, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George will hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his seven-year career. And while no one knows exactly where he’s going yet, he’s reportedly ruled out a return to the Sooner State.
“Today is the first time I’ve heard from anybody that I trust that George is gone,” ESPN Radio host Ryan Russillo said on “The Rusillo Show” Tuesday morning. “... I don’t know where, but it’s a ‘he’s gone’ deal.”
If George is really done with OKC after just one season, the Los Angeles Lakers are widely believed to be his next stop. However, George himself has given no indication that he has already made a decision.
“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.”
And to an extent, George has every right to feel the way he does about the Thunder.
For all the mistakes they’ve made as an organization, the Thunder have only missed the postseason twice in the last decade and finished at the No. 4 seed in a loaded Western Conference this past season.
Meanwhile, the Lakers haven’t made the playoffs in five years and there’s no guarantee they make the playoffs next year, even with George.
George leaving the Thunder for the Lakers would be like leaving a stable, well-paying job for a startup company. In other words, it would be a decision rooted in his pure love for the city of Los Angeles and the Lakers’ rich history.
For years, the front office has been unsuccessful in selling that to free agents, but it might finally work this summer with George.
Since as early as 2013, George hasn’t been shy about the prospect of playing for his hometown Lakers. Right before entering restricted free agency with the Indiana Pacers that summer, George went on “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd and talked about how hard it would be to turn down Kobe Bryant in free agency.
“Of course it would be tough,” George said. “You’re talking about playing home, playing in L.A. That’s what your family grew up on. It would be the family favorite team, but again, it’s about me and my career and I think where I’m at will do the job for me.”
George signed a five-year, $90 million contract to stay with Indiana that summer and the Pacers made the Eastern Conference finals the following year. But once the winning stopped and George started feeling unsettled, the lure of Los Angeles reared its head once again.
In June of 2017, George informed the Pacers he was planning on declining his player option in 2018 and leaving the franchise with the hope of signing with the Lakers in free agency, according to Adrian Wojnarowski.
That intention would seem to imply that for four years, while he was seemingly perfectly happy making postseason appearances with the Pacers and saying all of the right things, George always had Los Angeles in the back of his mind. For four years.
Do you really think five months, 48 wins and a first-round exit in the NBA playoffs to a lower-seeded team has changed his feelings about going home? No, because coming home has always looked like the end game for George.
The bright lights of Los Angeles might be too much for some players, but for George, it’s home. And everyone knows there’s no place like home.