Playing in the city where you grew up is overrated; it must be. The Lakers have been rejected by two of their own, two that grew up in the area and fetishized everything the Lakers represented.
The Lakers are a unique franchise in the city; everything revolves around them, their winning, their losing, their ecstasy, their melancholy. They block out the sun. Dr. Jerry Buss was very specific in how he knitted the wealthy, the rich, the financially average and the poor as a tribal experience, a unique community of Laker fans who needed each other. So when two home grown products, DeMar DeRozan and Paul George, reject what Dr. Buss spent years cultivating, either something is wrong with the product. Or something is wrong with them.
Neither DeMar DeRozan nor Paul George gave the Lakers the benefit of the doubt. They didn’t even take a meeting. When he was a free agent, DeMar DeRozan accepted a maximum deal from the Toronto Raptors right after midnight, similar to George. Knowing he had to explain himself DeRozan said that as much as he loved the Lakers, he knew he would never have an impact on the franchise. He would never be a Lakers record holder. In effect, DeRozan was admitting that he wasn’t a special player. The Lakers though cultivate special. The very good are forgotten about in five years. DeRozan wanted to be remembered.
The DeRozan excuse was roughly digested as this: he just wasn’t tough enough. He couldn’t take all the Kobe comparisons and the Kobe did this and you’re not Kobe. He needed an easier road. DeRozan falling on his sword in the aftermath of rejecting the Lakers was his way of making amends. If DeRozan didn’t say something, he would have been crucified. That he admitted he wasn’t a special player made Lakers fans exhale. They don’t want the very good. They want the Hall of Fame great. As Kobe once put it, “if you need to be convinced to be a Laker, you are not Lakers material.”
Among Laker fans there was debate about Paul George in a way there isn’t about Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James. George is a very good player, probably coming in at number 11 on the top-10 active players list. ( Ahead of him are LeBron, Durant, Kawhi, Anthony Davis, Steph, Westbrook, Harden, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Klay Thompson.) Paul George hasn’t led his team to the Finals even as he has been in the Eastern Conference Finals twice. He has had some rouge moments as the main guy with the pressure all on him. He has never delivered in the clutch. He has never finished in the top-5 of MVP voting. The only notable NBA award Paul George received was five years ago when he won Most Improved Player.
Paul George is in his prime. In his prime, he has never distanced himself from the field. He’s an All-Star that has won Player Of The Month a paltry three times in his career. He has never been first team All-NBA. He was first team All-Defensive once, five years ago. Which means he is not a number one option. In his own mind yes. In reality, no.
The Lakers who are desperately (pathetically?) searching for a number one option looked at George’s stardom and tried to fit the square peg into the round hole. But here’s the real. By staying in OKC, and playing Vice-President to Westbrook’s Prez of all things OKC, George was screaming at the NBA he didn’t want any part of the franchise tag and everything that goes along with it.
Who knew Paul George was the basketball version of Mike Pence?
Paul George needed the world to know he didn’t want the criticism, the blame, the spotlight, the pressure, he didn’t want all of that on him in such a large market as Los Angeles, with a lot of unrealistic Lakers fans who, I am sure, have hijacked his social media feed and crawled into his DM’s calling him a bum. He is not a bum. Paul George is a good player who can help a team win a title but he can’t carry a team to a title.
He knows it and I’m all for self-awareness and looking in the mirror. Be honest and tell yourself the truth. George did. He wouldn’t or couldn’t turn his back on the OKC love; he wasn’t strong enough. Regardless of OKC treading water with that huge payroll and being just as crappy next year as this past year, George is all in.
By not meeting with Magic Johnson who is the Los Angeles version of Jesus, Paul George lived his OKC dream. He said it better than anyone else could.
He’s not Lakers material.
Paul George and Dwight Howard now have something in common.