Even though I like Paul George, I don’t believe Paul George. I don’t believe what he says about staying in OKC. I don’t believe his change of tune and blaming “us” and saying we’re overreacting about his L.A. dreams when those rumors began with him. I don’t believe the Thunder faithful at the airport will impact his decision next July. I know he can’t see into the future. He has no idea how this arranged marriage is going to work. It can be beautiful or it can go south quick but I don’t believe what Paul George tells the media.
Kevin Durant and LeBron James were excellent teachers. It is not what athletes say to cameras or on Instagram. It is what they are telling their friends. Paul George was telling his friends he wants back in L.A.
At this point, it is hard to understand what Paul George wants. Before the Thunder trade, when he was talking up the Lakers, he knew they were going to be a 35 win team if everything shakes right. And he still wanted it. So it wasn’t basketball logic. It wasn’t a team with a second All-Star that had him ring hunting. Perhaps personal reasons were guiding him or he wanted a bigger market than Indiana, and now, Oklahoma City. It could have been he wanted to get out of the east so OKC fits the bill.
As far as OKC goes, Russell Westbrook still hasn’t accepted the designated player extension and the heady number of $200 million plus. So it is not as cut and dried, even after a Westbrook MVP and Best Athlete pat on the back.
Westbrook has been around the NBA block. He knows the Thunder can’t compete as they are constructed. Oladipo is gone, that’s a plus. But until they create an offense to legitimize Stephen Adams, the Thunder will be one and done with two frustrated superstars.
It is better for a superstar to walk than for him to demand a trade. Superstar trades ruin franchises. So the Thunder, with Westbrook back this year, signed or not signed, will try to make Paul George happy.
But then Larry Bird tried to make Paul George happy. He got rid of George Hill and replaced him with a younger Jeff Teague. No chemistry. He brought in Thaddeus Young. He’s been an average performer his entire career. He added Al Jefferson. Big Al was hurt all year. The upgrades didn’t matter much and by January Paul George was off the island. He was reckless, steering a ship he knew was going to crash into rocks.
Recalcitrant, grumpy, critical, unhappy, Paul George complained openly about teammates in the playoffs, something Jordan, Kobe and LeBron have done. But the difference is Paul George didn’t keep his animosity behind closed doors. He let the media in on his bad mood. That he wanted out was the most public secret in the NBA. But he is Paul George. The Pacers couldn’t let him go for free.
Which is a Thunder problem, not now, but perhaps in six months. George leads people on. The Thunder won’t know until July 1st what George will do. Just like with Kevin Durant. What incentive does George have to tip his hand? Scott Presti went into this with his eyes wide open so he knows the gamble.
Despite being the second option on a team, which hasn’t happened since his rookie year, Paul George has power. He decides the OKC Thunder fate and Westbrook’s. The absolute worse case scenario is for Westbrook to not sign the extension this year and he and George are both free agents.
George has options.
Option 1: He stays in OKC. The Thunder figure out a way to tap in to Steven Adam’s potential. George isn’t a prop for Russell Westbrook. The Thunder get rid of Enes Kanter who is an offensive specialist but his defense borders on mutiny. Westbrook-George fit together, have chemistry, lead the Thunder to the WCF.
Option 2: Trade George before July 1st to the Lakers. The Lakers have a bunch of young players who have talent. The only untouchables will be Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. The Lakers have done a great job at second round picks. A few years ago, they bought the Wizards second round pick and drafted combo guard Jordan Clarkson. Last year they plucked up Ivica Zubac, a big man from Croatia with footwork and soft hands. This year they traded for Thomas Bryant who the Jazz drafted, a forward out of Indiana who made a strong impression in the Vegas Summer League with his explosiveness, nose for the ball, and hustle. Not to mention Julius Randle is always trade bait, a strong rebounder and effort player.
But first Paul George has to deflect all the I’m leaving stories. He has to fit in. He has to try it in OKC. Winning makes players happy. Being legitimized makes players happy. George, as a number one option, is used to the offense being about him. How he and Westbrook adjust will also be part of the story. The beginning chapter is now. The end no one knows. Not even Paul George.
But consider this too, the reality. Everyone, every human adult on earth needs a why. Why am I in this job? Why do I have this life? Why am I here? For Paul George, he has to ask himself why am I in OKC? The answer may not be what everyone wants to hear, that he is in OKC only until he is not in OKC in 2018.
photo via llananba