Let the Paul George free agency speculation begin.
It’s the cloud that’s hung over the Thunder all season. George had just one year left on his contract when Oklahoma City traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him last summer, with the goal being to put together a contender and give George nothing but reasons to stay.
Friday night, the Thunder were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Utah Jazz. How does that factor into his decision this summer? Does George plan on staying with the Thunder? After the loss Friday he was not answering that question, as Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript noted:
Only George knows what he plans to do this summer (and he may well not know what he wants to do this soon after the season). Here are three things we do know:
• George has said on multiple occasions this season he could picture himself staying in Oklahoma City. He’s enjoyed the city and the experience with the Thunder organization. That matters.
• Around the league, most people I have spoken with — including those in front offices — still expect him to bolt to Los Angeles and become a Laker this summer. The Thunder’s struggles in the first round just strengthened that sentiment.
• Oklahoma City’s financial situation will factor into George’s decision. Russell Westbrook‘s extension kicks in next season at $35.4 million, Carmelo Anthony almost certainly will opt into his $27.9 million, George would get a max extension just over $30 million, Steven Adams is owed $24.2 million, Andre Roberson $10 million, and that plus rounding out the roster will bring the payroll up to the $150 million range. Throw in $100 million or so in luxury tax — the Thunder would be paying the repeater tax — and you’re talking north of $250 million in payroll. That’s a sum that would make the Knicks or Lakers look to shed salary even if the team was a contender — Oklahoma City is a much smaller market and this team is not a contender. The Thunder are capped out and it will be difficult to make trades or other moves that frees up money to bring in the kind of role players and veterans this team needs. Is this roster enough to keep George in OKC?
Maybe. But George isn’t ready to talk about it yet.