Winning, Not Homecoming is Paul George's Priority
Don't look now but Paul George's move to Oklahoma City may be for good. Well that's if PG13 and his new team can work out a winning season next year.
"If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
That’s good news for OKC fans and a not so good one for the Lakers Nation.
One Year Lease
The Oklahoma City Thunder stunned the basketball world after landing Paul George at the start of the summer's free agency period. George was considered as the top free agent in the market and had several high profile teams like Boston and Cleveland seriously going after him. But when all was said and done, it was a team under the radar, who won the sweepstakes: The Oklahoma City Thunder.
Trading for Paul George was a risky move for any team. George told his previous employer, the Indiana Pacers, that he will opt out of his contract at the end of the next season to become a free agent. He also made known his preference to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. Because of those circumstances, Paul George was essentially a one-year lease with no guarantees after one season. Despite that, the Thunder took the gamble.
The Thunder lost Kevin Durant two summers ago. They cannot afford to lose Russell Westbrook too. Westbrook took over the team from Durant. He led the team to an unexpected playoff run which saw him break the Big O’s triple double record and win the NBA MVP award. But the thing with Westbrook is that he too, will be eligible for free agency next summer. And just as Durant left to chase that coveted NBA ring, Westbrook might do the same if the Thunder fall short again.
Considering what the Thunder gave up to bag Paul George, the deal was a bargain and a good gamble for the Thunder. Adding Paul George to the Thunder gives Westbrook the assurance that the team is committed to building a winner around him. Likewise it also gives Oklahoma City a leverage in making Westbrook stay. Now they have one year to make their pitch and convince Paul George to stay for good. That period has begun.
On July 11, Paul George officially arrived in Oklahoma City and got a warm welcome from the Thunder faithful. Around 400-500 fans trooped the Will Rogers airport to witness George’s first steps in OKC. They didn't mind if the temperature got as hot as 97 degrees or that Paul George's plane arrived one and a half hour late.They were there to make their new basketball superstar feel at home in his new city.
Such welcomes are a small acts that go a long way. For Paul George, it must have left a good first impression on the fans and the people of OKC in general. First impressions last and for the a Thunder, letting PG13 feel at home right away didn’t hurt. In fact, it was a big victory. Oklahoma City may not be his hometown. But it’s a place he can also call home.
Winning Changes Everything
At the beginning of the Paul George story, we thought that he was fated to the Los Angeles Lakers. George is from the L.A. area and grew up in Palmdale, an hour from Hollywood. He spent his childhood watching the Lakers and the Clippers. He grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant. He says it would be a dream come true to play for the Lakers but also says that this is not just about a homecoming. George said the Lakers rumor is ‘overstated’. He also said that winning changes everything.
The Thunder making the conference finals in the Western Conference is a tough task. Upsetting the Warriors is even a more difficult proposition. But if you talk about doing something crazy, it's what Westbrook and his Thunder did last season. All George asked for was a little help in Indiana. He got more than what he bargained for. His new team is an obvious upgrade from what he had last season.
With a new team comes a new window of opportunity. Paul George felt that his window in Indiana had already closed and that the Pacers were headed in a different direction. His best Pacers unit reached the Eastern Conference finals three years ago but the core of that squad is now gone. Larry Bird, the architect of that team, has also left Indiana. Now George is gone too, chasing that elusive title in a new setting out west, in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder do not have the firepower of the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers or the Houston Rockets. But if Westbrook singlehandedly took the team to the playoffs, it will be exciting to see what they can do with Russ and PG13 together. Having an All-Star tandem isn’t new to the Thunder. Year after year, they were title contenders with Durant and Westbrook at the helm. Sure, KD and Russ were the better pair and they never won it all. But then it was Durant's show back then. This is is different. This is Russell Westbrook's time. And it’s an entirely different ballgame.