The Lakers won the summer — they landed LeBron James.
However, the Lakers had room for two max salaries, and a year before Paul George‘s people were trying to scare off other teams by telling them he was going to sign with the Lakers when he became a free agent. (George’s hope was the Lakers would trade for him, but thinking they could get him as a free agent the Lakers trade offer was pretty lowball, so the Thunder won out sending Victor Oladipo to the Pacers). Los Angeles thought they were going to lock PG13 up.
After a season in Oklahoma City, George decided that was the place he wanted to be, playing next to Russell Westbrook. He was so sure he made a quick decision on July 1 and didn’t bother to meet with Magic Johnson and the Lakers.
And that ticked the Lakers off, George said on Chris Pfaff’s Short Story Long podcast (hat tip Chris Walder):
“L.A. was pissed at me. I didn’t give Magic a shot, which I understand. But at that point, I knew I wanted to give it another shot. I didn’t want to prolong it and waste people’s time.”
First, you can’t fault George. Things change, perspectives change, feelings change. He was looking for a place he felt wanted and where he could win, and Oklahoma City provided that for him before Los Angeles ever got the chance to. So he decided to stay, and he didn’t play around with the decision and drag it out.
That’s not necessarily an omen for the Los Angeles teams and the Kawhi Leonard situation. Yes, Leonard is rumored to be keeping an open mind (does anyone really know what he’s thinking?) but the situations and the people involved are very different.
Magic Johnson is going to get the Lakers in the door for a lot of free agent interviews in the coming years — he has the pedigree that will get players to listen, he represents the biggest brand in the NBA, he oversees a team that plays in a city where a lot of players already own homes and live in the off-season, and the weather is great. Magic has some built-in recruiting advantages, but he’s not going to get everyone.
Or, sometimes, even get a meeting. And that’s just business.