Paul George rejected the Los Angeles Lakers for the Oklahoma City Thunder in June of 2018 and what happened next was predictable. A tsunami of collective bitterness rushed downhill about George being weak, scared, insignificant. Up to then, George was seen as a Kobe-phile and young talent. But rejection triggers base instincts. Laker fans weren’t on Paul George’s side anymore. Some ten months later, when George lost to the Portland Trailblazers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, Laker fans were given a gift. The team George preferred came up way short in the playoffs and it signified some greater George truth. He didn’t have the fortitude and guts to wear the purple and gold. It wasn’t in him. He’d rather lose in Oklahoma than try with Los Angeles. The Lakers were lucky Paul George stayed put.
Paul George has always been a paradox. He has the look of a dominant scorer and rebounder but he favors perimeter offense, rarely posting up. His defense, which is supposed to be his strong suit, has taken a dive in the past few years. He’s good enough but not great.
In that 2019 Blazer series that wholly entertained, despite being eliminated in 5 games, Paul George averaged 28 ppg. It’s why George finished 3rd that year in the MVP race. George shot 70% in Game 5 and pulled down 9 rebounds and had 36 points. Those kinds of performances are deceptive because Paul George doesn’t or just can’t bring the dominant Paul George out for a spin every single night. His Game 3 of that series was a catastrophe: 18% and 28% from three. Lakers fans were quick to chime in with an I told you so. They are convinced Paul George pissed off the Lakers Basketball Gods and will be punished until he begs for mercy.
Although George likes to think he is a clutch playoff performer, the numbers say otherwise in 2020. He shot 39% and 33% from three. His offensive rating of 104 was the second-lowest of his career and his playoff PER was 14.8. George was terrible from midrange and the three-point line. Only his long twos were passable. His 20.2 ppg was the lowest in 7 years.
Paul George asked the Oklahoma City Thunder to trade him one year after he spurned the Lakers. George was willing to become Kawhi Leonard’s 1a but even George conceded he has vacillated from being the second option to being invisible. He repeatedly said during this playoff run he had to do more which was disconcerting even if it was a pep talk. Don’t say you’re going to do more. Just. Do. More.
According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo, George and Montrezl Harrell got into a confrontation during a game over a bad pass. It’s not that unusual considering the stakes but it is what Harrell said about Paul George that raised eyebrows: “You’re always right.” Harrell told George, “nobody can tell you nothing.” That’s not exactly the character trait you need on a championship team, lack of accountability.
George will forever be remembered for the shot that was so offline it hit the side of the backboard. That it happened in the fourth quarter during a stretch when the Clippers needed Paul George to be Playoff P incriminates George more than any free-agent signing. George lost focus when the Clippers needed him most. He stopped competing. He failed.
Perhaps Harrell is right and George does have a problem with accountability. After the devastating failure of losing to the Nuggets after a 3-1 series lead, and having double-digit leads erased, George lied on the interview podium. He said of this year it wasn’t a win everything or bust year, as if we conveniently have forgotten all the trash talk he and his teammates vomited about the Clippers having arrived as King of the Hill. We’re not blind either. Around Los Angeles billboards with Paul George’s face on it intimate, this is their time. It’s all about right now, particularly for a franchise nearing its 50th birthday without a conference finals appearance.
The Clippers failed disastrously, horribly, expertly and there will be changes. No one is patient anymore but that’s not the point either. George and Leonard signed three-year deals with opt-outs after year two. After next season, both will be free agents. 2020-21 will be filled with Clippers stress, anxiety, dramatics, and Paul George trying to live up to his Playoff P falsehood.