Going into the summer of 2018, many felt that Paul George — not LeBron James — was the player the Los Angeles Lakers had the best chance of signing in free agency.
Not only was George a hometown kid with a well-documented admiration for the purple and gold, but he requested a trade to the Lakers the year before he became a free agent and repeatedly expressed how much playing for his hometown would mean to him while he was still in Oklahoma City.
If felt like a near guarantee, so much so that even players from other teams like Tyson Chandler, who played for the Phoenix Suns last season, thought George was headed to L.A.
“I thought he was coming here, as an outsider,” Chandler told reporters after the Lakers lost to the Thunder on Wednesday night. “But with that you never know. Clearly him and Russ developed a relationship and he felt like he had enough there to win, or go after it, or whatever reasons he didn’t want to come or interview or whatever. It’s always a players’ individual thing.”
George ultimately decided to re-sign with the Thunder on a four-year, $137 million deal because they traded for him in 2017. Had the Lakers been the team that traded for him, George told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated in October that he would have been suiting up in the purple and gold:
“It was 50-50 on deciding whether I wanted to come back home or if it was smarter to be in the situation I am in now,” George told The Undefeated. “But it wasn’t overstated. I wanted to play in L.A. That is where I wanted to go. Had that trade never went down, had I played one more year in Indy, I would have been in a Lakers uniform.”
Luckily, the Lakers were able to get the ultimate consolation prize in LeBron James, who signed a four-year deal with L.A. even with the knowledge that George wasn’t going to be coming with him after all.
Would it have been nice to see both George and James in the purple and gold? Absolutely, but Lakers fans can live with having just the latter.