Oklahoma City or Los Angeles?
While technically other cities are options — and some other teams will try to get into the conversation — Paul George‘s free agency essentially comes down to those two options. Go to his hometown and become the face of an up-and-coming young team, or stay with Russell Westbrook and a dangerous team poised to be a threat now?
Around the league (sources with other teams), the sense is Los Angeles is the frontrunner.
However, George told Royce Young of ESPN that he can see himself staying in Oklahoma City, and that how the team fares in the playoffs this season is not part of that decision.
“As I told [ESPN’s] Rachel [Nichols], I can see myself being here,” George said. “I’ve been happy here, I’ve been happy with the organization, happy with my teammates. Our record is not what we want it to be, but I think I’ve enjoyed just learning and being around these guys. So my answer is still the same. I’m not going to let the playoffs or how we finish this season persuade or indicate where I’m going to this offseason. I’m going to put everything into this and again, I can definitely see myself being here.”
“This is our first year together. This is Year 1 for this group,” he said. “We’ve got a chance to win it all, but realistically it takes time for things to build and chemistry to mesh. Just for everybody to be on the same page. So this wasn’t a championship or bust coming into this for me. It was just an opportunity to see what it’s like being here and just to naturally fall in love with it. And it’s been that. It’s been a lot of love here.”
While George says how the playoffs conclude will not determine his decision, it also will leave a taste in his mouth — good or bad — as he goes to make a decision. Oklahoma City’s playoff fortunes could well depend on where it lands in the standings, and that is up in the air — the Thunder are in a three-way tie with the Spurs and Pelicans for the 5/6/7 seeds, just one game back of four-seed Utah and half-a-game up on the eight seed Timberwolves (with the nine seed Nuggets just half a game back of them). Get the seven seed and, while this team is built to challenge Golden State, OKC likely gets bounced in the first round. However, finish in a spot where they make the second round and push the Rockets or Warriors and it feels different.
George has said from the start how much he has enjoyed playing in and for Oklahoma City — the team could not have done more to keep him. On and off the court.
Is that enough? Only George knows, and we won’t know the answer until early July.