Paul George entered free agency as the key piece in the puzzle that could’ve led to a new super team in LA with the Lakers.
The Los Angeles native had made his wishes about playing at home abundantly clear last season amidst the trade frenzy that eventually saw him land with Russell Westbrook in OKC, and it was thought to almost be a given that he’d find a way to get on board with Magic Johnson and co this summer.
That narrative seemingly only grew stronger following an underwhelming first season playing alongside Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony with the Thunder, but how things have changed in the past few days.
A flurry of stories had been circling as free agency approached that Westbrook was going out of his way to make sure George wouldn’t leave and that the former Pacers star was strong considering staying in OKC despite interest from the Lakers.
That still seemed far fetched given George’s affinity for his home town and the draw of possibly linking up with LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard surely being too hard to refuse.
However, as free agency opened last night, George pulled the shock move to stay in Oklahoma City without even taking a meeting with another team, not even the Lakers.
According to ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the 28-year-old forward has agreed to a four-year $137 million deal to re-sign with the Thunder.
He reportedly made the huge announcement at a party hosted by Westbrook, and even took to Instagram to confirm his intentions for the coming season, posting a photo with his All Star teammate captioned ‘Unfinished business’.
Despite the various rumours about his future, it’s been made clear to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that George had in fact informed the Thunder well in advance about his intentions to remain with the team.
It’s a huge coup for the Thunder, who were facing near irrelevancy and a major crossroads in franchise history had George taken his talents elsewhere.
Instead of being thrust into uncertainty, their future now remains that of a contending team for the duration of George and Westbrook’s contracts, and Sam Presti has always had an eye for the dramatic so they might not be done adding high profile names just yet.
Breaking new ground
It’s also a fresh precedent set for teams trading for players with one-year remaining on their current deals. Presti took a huge risk dealing valuable assets for George last summer, gambling on his ability to convince the five-time All Star to stay on despite his blatant wishes to link up with his hometown Lakers.
It’ll certainly give other GM’s in the Kawhi Leonard stakes more confidence to go after the aggrieved Spurs star and back their ability to sell him the culture and future of the team in the year he’s in the building with the hope that it convinces him to stay ahead of his impending free agency in 2019.
The move has enormous repercussions for the rest of the free agent market too. It’s a damaging blow to the Lakers’ hopes of forming their own super team, with the addition of LeBron James seemingly resting on their ability to add star pieces before he commits.
James has long desired playing alongside George, and unless Magic and Rob Pelinka cans secure the services of Leonard, it’s now far from a sure-fire bet that the king ends up in LA this summer.
The first big move of the summer has been made, and it’s set up the rest of the free agent period to be even more wild than originally expected. Over to you, LeBron.
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