OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Just four games into the season, Paul George has to face the team he just left under less than ideal circumstances.
During the offseason, George’s camp let it be known he planned to become a free agent after next season. The disappointed Pacers opted to trade the face of their franchise to Oklahoma City rather than play a season with a star they had no long-term future with and perhaps get nothing in return.
With the Pacers, George was a four-time All-Star and helped Indiana reach the Eastern Conference Finals twice. The Thunder host the Pacers on Wednesday night.
“It’ll be emotional from a standpoint of it’s an organization that I started with, had a wonderful journey with, that I had seven unbelievable years with,” George said.
George was especially close to Larry Bird, who was team president when the Pacers made him the 10th pick in the 2010 draft. George said he appreciated the time he spent with Bird, who has stepped down as president but remains with the franchise as a consultant.
“His stories, his knowledge of the game, talking with him through playoff battles and his understanding,” George said. “He’s a legend. Hall of Fame player, Hall of Fame across the whole board – executive, coach. It meant a lot as a young player coming into this league. I was grateful to have that time talking to him and sharing conversations.”
New Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony had to face his old team, the New York Knicks, in the season opener. He said he spoke with George during the preseason about facing their former teams so soon.
“If I sit here and say he’s not excited about that game tomorrow, I’d be lying to you,” Anthony said.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said he expects George to handle the situation well.
“I’m sure that there’s things he’s going through, but he’s a pro,” Donovan said. “He’ll handle things how he sees fit to handle them. I think he’ll be fine.”
The Pacers got Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis from the Thunder in exchange for George. Oladipo is averaging 22.3 points per game. Donovan said Oladipo is in a good place because his athletic ability can be maximized in Indiana’s up-tempo style.
“The greatest Victor has always had in my opinion has been his energy,” Donovan said. “That’s the way it was in college. He’s worked exceptionally hard to develop his shooting, develop his ballhandling.”
Sabonis is averaging 12.3 points and nine rebounds.
George’s adjustment has been a mixed bag so far. He’s averaging 21.3 points, but he’s shooting just 37 percent from the field.
“The more of these games come around, the more I see teams play us, the more opportunities I see that are opening up. The game is different for me now, in an easier way that I’m not taking advantage of.”