By George, Paul is Back
Editorial piece for Bucking Broncho column.
Oklahoma City general manager, Sam Presti’s main goal this offseason was to resign Paul George. As his had to validate trading away Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for a player with one year left on his contract.
Paul George’s “My Journey”, a three-part documentary about George’s free agency, left many NBA fans speculating on what Jersey George would put on in this upcoming NBA season. Everyone, including Thunder fans, knew George had his eyes set on returning home, as he requested to be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers while he was with Indiana last off-season. He even appeared to be talking with LA’s front office as the Lakers were fined $500,000 for tampering last season.
However after the season ended it was clear George wasn’t so set on playing in Purple and Gold. His decision had changed and he highly considered returning to play with former league MVP Russell Westbrook in the Jersey he wore last year in Oklahoma City.
“In a way it’s like, I want to come here, I want to play for the home team, and put a Laker Jersey on,” said George in talking with three time NBA champion, Dwayne Wade. “But, at the same time, it’s like, what’s the best move though?”
Many fans and analysis around NBA were skeptical of George playing alongside Westbrook.
“Paul George is better off with Lonzo Ball than Russell Westbrook,” said First Take analyst, Stephen A. Smith.
Along with Smith many Laker fans argued against Westbrook during their heated battles on social media platforms this off-season.
“Nobody actually wants to play with stat-padding Russell Westbrook that’s why Kevin Durant left.” Or “Paul George has a better chance at winning in Los Angeles than he does with WESTBRICK”.
However, it seems Paul George thought otherwise, as he showed up to Westbrook’s private summer house party near Lake Arcadia on Saturday, he deflected those narratives in front of the party-goers on stage with Westbrook at his side.
“If y’all didn’t quite get it, let me say it again… I’m here to stay,” said George as Westbrook placed his hand next to his ear giving his best hulk Hogan expression.
“There’s no need to wait if you know where you want to be,” said Westbrook before last season when he signed his extension with the Thunder.
It appears George and Westbrook think alike as free agency began Saturday at 11 p.m. eastern standard time, George reportedly committed to sign with the Thunder just under 15 minutes later. Not allowing any other team on the market to win a meeting with him. Including the Los Angeles Lakers.
George agreed to a four-year, $137 million max contract. Locking the 28-year-old in with the Thunder for at least three more seasons as he has a player option on the fourth.
Paul George has agreed to a four-year, $137M max contract with the Thunder, league source tells ESPN. Deal includes a player option.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 1, 2018
The signing for the Thunder is a victory for the organization. If George had bolted to LA the Thunder would have been left floating in high waters again with Westbrook as the lone star. It was a big gamble, but Presti and the Thunder ownership learned that betting their money was better for the organization than not, after they folded in 2012 pre-maturely trading away future league MVP James Harden to avoid the luxury tax.
But now with George and Jerami Grant resigning, Carmelo Anthony opting into his contract and a repeater tax penalty, the Thunder now face a NBA record $130 million luxury tax bill with only 11 players under contract while the NBA requires teams to have a minimum of 13 players.
For what it’s worth, the Thunder remain a two-star system with no worries of one leaving in free agency looming over their heads. However, the Thunder snapping back to stability and title contention in such a short amount of time is not the accomplishment that’s the most baffling. With the signing of Westbrook before the season and George now, the Thunder have convinced two star players who both grew up in southern California, who cheered for the Lakers, to stay in Oklahoma City through their prime years even after coming off a disappointing season.
It speaks wonders for the Thunder Organization. But with the Roster not improving at all this offseason and looking at the financial problems they face, the Thunder’s off season cannot be deemed as completed just yet.