Paul George: ‘Initial plan was to give it another year’ when I re-signed with Thunder for three years

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The Thunder entered 2017-18 with Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and major expectations.

They lost in the first round.

Yet, George – who’d telegraphed so much Lakers interest – still re-signed last summer. He explained his choice:

“Looking back on it, if I would’ve made another decision, I would have looked back at that one year in Oklahoma and thought, ‘What if?’” George says.

It appeared George relinquished plenty of flexibility to answer that question. His contract with Oklahoma City locked him in for three years before a player option.

But after the Thunder again lost in the first round this year, he requested and received a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers.

Rachel Nichols of ESPN:

This really sounds like Oklahoma City pitched him on re-signing with a promise to trade him later if he wanted. George could get long-term contract security without losing the freedom to change teams. Not only does George’s statement indicate that, so does the Thunder’s historically quick pivot into rebuilding. They appeared ready for this.

Everything worked well for both sides. George got to L.A., where he wanted to be. The Thunder got a massive haul of draft picks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. Moving George also freed Oklahoma City to trade Russell Westbrook without backlash.

But this is a dangerous model to follow, if this were somewhat pre-arranged. The Thunder didn’t have to trade George. They didn’t have to send him to his desired team. The next player who tries to have his cake and eat it too – gaining long-term contract security while thinking he’s maintaining freedom to choose his team – might not be so fortunate. He could easily wind up stuck somewhere he doesn’t want to be. These arrangements are non-binding.

The only way for players to ensure their ability to choose their team annually is to sign a one-year or 1+1 contract. That carries risk. But otherwise, they are beholden to their team – which is just another risk.