Russell Westbrook advocated strongly for Thunder teammate Paul George to be an All-Star. To Westbrook’s credit, he even implied which All-Stars should have been excluded – Damian Lillard and at least one of the four Warriors (Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant).
George was a borderline case, and I would have (narrowly) omitted him. So, I won’t call him a snub.
But Westbrook’s case meant a lot to George.
A day after Russell Westbrook called his All-Star snub “outrageous,” Paul George told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols it was “awesome” to see his Thunder teammate support him, while also noting Westbrook is making George’s future free-agency decision “easier” to make.
“Russ is the reason why this decision is becoming even more easier to make, is the character Russ [has],” George said on Wednesday. “A stand-up guy, and he has his teammate’s back.”
“We were actually joking before he went up there, and I’m like, ‘Nah, Russ, man, just let it go, let it go Russ. It is what it is, I wasn’t picked,’ and he was like, ‘Nah, man, P, that’s messed up. I’m gonna tell them something about that,'” George said.
“It was awesome for a teammate to have your back and to stand up,” he said. “And to be honest, he should be a starter. He’s been the MVP, been the best player at his position. He should’ve been a starter, but that’s another story. But the fact Russ had my back, that’s my guy forever, and it’s more apparent what this decision needs to be made when it comes down to it.”
George has expressed an openness to re-signing with Oklahoma City, but he also keeps flirting with the Lakers. His future seemed fairly open. These comments frame his free agency completely differently.
At this point, the expectation should be George re-signing with the Thunder.
The only way for Westbrook’s comments to make free agency easier for George would be if George were already leaning toward staying with Oklahoma City. Otherwise, Westbrook’s strong public backing would make George’s decision more difficult.
I hope George realizes that’s how this comes across. Now, if he leaves, it’d generate far more backlash in Oklahoma – and, trickling out, nationally.
People resented Durant, in part, because he gushed about his brotherhood with Russell Westbrook and connection with Oklahoma while playing for the Thunder. That never meant he firmly committed to stay, but it was sure perceived that way, and the suddenness of the reversal when Durant signed with the Warriors inspired more vitriol.
George’s leaning can still change. He’s riding high after Oklahoma City has won five straight, and he has always said the playoffs matter when assessing his current team.
But this is the strongest statement George has given in either direction on his plan for next summer, and it points to him re-signing with the Thunder.