Will Paul George Commit to the Thunder?

The Thunder put all their chips on the table to get Paul George. Is that enough to convince him to re-sign with the franchise this summer?

The Oklahoma City Thunder made a commitment to Paul George by trading two young pieces to bring him in on the last year of his contract, and then doubled down by trading two more pieces to add Carmelo Anthony to the roster. It looked like a perfect fit, at the time, to have those two particular players team up with Russell Westbrook and make a run in the West.

In New York, the Carmelo era had clearly run its course, and the nationally televised divorce between Anthony and Phil Jackson gave the Knicks an excuse to do something that they should have done at least a year ago - blow it up and build around Kristaps Porzingis. Anthony, responsible for the only successful Knicks season since 2001, had already been the subject of trade rumors since he signed a five-year deal with them in 2014. They let go at the right time, but that doesn't justify the wasted seasons of holding him out in hopes of a king's ransom to ultimately unload him for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott (now Emmanuel Mudiay). 

The Indiana Pacers found themselves at the same crossroads, save the New York drama. There was still drama, but it was more on the scale of what might happen in an office and less on the scale of politicians subtweeting athletes to dispute our basic constitutional rights. Come to think of it, the Paul George situation isn't even in the top 10 craziest things to happen in the NBA in the past year. But it was just significant enough to throw all sports media into a fervor of disbelief. Disbelief that Indiana could give up so much in George, and receive so little in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. By December, Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard was taking victory laps on Twitter after Oladipo trash-canned the streaking Cavaliers while the Thunder were sitting at 12 wins and 14 losses, sporting the label of "most disappointing team in the NBA so far". 

Every ounce of context matters. The context of most superteams is the history of one or more losing teams. You can look at the precedent set by LeBron James and Chris Bosh heading south, or you go back further and think about what it took to get Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause and accept a trade to Boston. You could take another opportunity to point and laugh at the Lakers and say "Now this is going to be fun". In every case, you have basketball players donning uniforms that look unnatural on them. You have athletes who had to make the decision to leave the city that raised them to try to build on their career. 

The prevailing opinion right now is that Paul George is leaning towards re-signing with the Thunder because they are a stable and likable organization. His thoughts on re-signing could be summarized by the following quote:

"Say what you want; I want to compete for something. It's frustrating just playing the game for stats or for numbers or to showcase yourself. Man, I want a chance to play for a chance to win a championship."

Sounds like a typical answer, right? An answer so typical that you didn't realize right away that he said it in February 2017 when he was still with the Pacers. It's an answer where he goes out of his way to call out stat padding and chasing individual accolades, a topic that was popular last season because of his current teammate, Russell Westbrook, who won an MVP award that hinged on averaging 10 rebounds per game instead of nine. It was speculated at the time that Pritchard dealt George to the Thunder to delay his long-awaited and totally speculative conquest to the Los Angeles Lakers as punishment for not committing to the Pacers. I don't want to be the guy to suggest that the quote and the trade are directly connected but... I'm suggesting exactly that. 

It's clear that Paul George is enjoying his time with Oklahoma City. I would just caution everyone who thinks George has made up his mind by now, because I'm not buying for a second that he doesn't still have his eyes on the Lakers after they made moves to free up cap space to sign free agents in 2018. Surely George knows that those moves were made with him in mind, especially given Magic Johnson's track record of openly praising players that he may or may not want to see wear a Lakers jersey (read: tampering). And that opportunity is on the table now for George, so we can't ignore it. Not only that, but the Lakers will have enough cash to add another star in a free agency period that could be highlighted by LeBron James' second departure from Cleveland. Had Demarcus Cousins not torn his achilles, I could see him as Paul George bait in LA, but I'm not so sure how the market will treat Cousins and his ankle problems this summer. 

The Thunder, on the other hand, doesn't have the luxury of cap space given that Carmelo Anthony will almost certainly opt into the last year of his contract worth $27 million. 

Yes, the Thunder have some stability. But the more important question is: do they have any mobility? Or are they destined to remain in the middle of the western conference standings for all of eternity? If George thinks that he's the piece that puts them over the top, then he may as well stay. If he thinks they still need help, he'll have to face the reality that the Thunder may not have the means to bring it in, and that's where things get interesting. Only one thing is certain - the first domino is LeBron. Then, we'll see how attached PG is to OKC. 

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