Oklahoma City built their own ‘big three’ last summer. Adding Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to reigning MVP Russell Westbrook was a showstopper offseason. OKC were meant to be contenders, not just for a top seed in the West, but for the championship. An MVP, a perennial All-Star and a future Hall of Famer sounds like a dream for any franchise.
Unfortunately, the dream never came to fruition. Struggles balancing the offence saw the Thunder slip to the fifth seed and exit the playoffs to the Utah Jazz in the first round. Anthony will take his $28 million player option, George is a free agent, and Victor Oladipo – who was traded to Indiana for PG – is a favourite to win Most Improved Player.
Coming off a disappointing season, George’s decision is more complicated than it may have been. Had OKC made it to the Conference Finals, the chance he would stay with the Thunder would be much greater. That’s obvious, of course, but Oklahoma City’s failings have opened up the free agency of a five-time All-Star, which is massive for the NBA.
Keep the Big Three together
Staying with the Thunder is still a possibility. George’s friendship with Westbrook is legitimate, and OKC could sort out the issues that saw them have a rough 2017/18 season. The Thunder, with George, will be serious contenders next year, while other potential destinations might not be so competitive.
Still, the Lakers loom large. George has not hidden his temptation to return home – he’s from Palmdale, California – and it’s not secret that Los Angeles have two max slots available. Magic Johnson will be in recruitment overdrive this offseason with PG13 a primary target.
Winning at Staples Center is no guarantee in the immediate future. Signing LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or DeMarcus Cousins along with George is a necessity for this Lakers roster to compete in 2019. The prestige of the gold and purple and the lure of a return to California cannot be understated in PG’s decision, however.
Outside shots for George’s signature
The Lakers and Thunder are the clear frontrunners as teams hustle to tie George down through his remaining peak years. The Sixers and Cavaliers will kick the tyres for sure but remain longshots. Cleveland would require another complete roster overhaul to make cap room. Philadelphia are perhaps the best basketball fit, but some still think they are a year or two away from being title contenders, and it only takes PG further away from California.
Conflicting rumours surface almost hourly at this time of year. George, after LeBron, is at the centre of more speculation than anyone else right now. A little under a year ago, it seemed inevitable that George would be a Laker this summer. It feels similar at the moment, though the extra $45 million the Thunder can offer could yet play a part.
Teaming up with LeBron elsewhere appears the only way that George ends up somewhere other than Oklahoma City or Los Angeles this offseason.