Paul George praises Thunder, happy he opted to stay put

NBA.com Global on Jul 29, 2018 07:16 AM
Paul George praises Thunder, happy he opted to stay put
FILE - OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - FEBRUARY 11: Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts against the Memphis Grizzlies on February 11, 2018 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBA.com staff report

Paul George didn't waste time this summer making his free-agency decision. He announced his intentions to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder at teammate Russell Westbrook's swanky party in Oklahoma essentially on free agency's opening night. Before that, though, the future of the All-Star swingman -- whom the Thunder acquired in a 2017 offseason trade -- was a topic of discussion throughout the 2017-18 season.

The Thunder (and their GM, Sam Presti) indeed took a risk in trading for George, knowing that he was a free agent this summer. George spoke at USA Basketball's mini-camp in Las Vegas yesterday about why he made a fast decision to stay where he was and why the Los Angeles Lakers -- his hometown team -- never even got a meeting with him to discuss free agency.

As George explains, playing for the Thunder was one of the "most comfortable" experiences he's had in his NBA life to date. ESPN's Marc J. Spears has more:

Despite the fact that George had interest in the Lakers, the Palmdale, California, native recently signed a four-year, $137 million contract to remain with the Thunder without taking a meeting from any other team.

George said he privately decided to return to the Thunder several weeks before free agency began on July 1. He also acknowledged having an expectation that NBA star LeBron James would sign with the Lakers as a free agent.

So why didn't George give the Lakers a meeting in free agency?

"It was absolutely tempting," George said. "Honestly, I wanted to come back home. But again, I got traded to Oklahoma. Loved the situation. Loved where I was at. I decided to stick around a little longer. ...

"I just wanted my free agency to be over with. In my heart, I felt great about Oklahoma and I wasn't going to prolong it if I felt good about it already."

His debut season was solid individually -- George averaged 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range last season -- but the Thunder were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the upstart Utah Jazz. That playoff exit and OKC's failure to fulfill its status as a title contender in the Western Conference also drew George back to the Thunder, he said.

"I felt when it came down to it and all the factors that played into it, deep down there was a nasty taste where we finished," George said. "I just felt I had more to offer. I had more to give. I just felt about where we were as a whole.

"I honestly went through the process and doing pros and cons throughout the whole [season]. I wouldn't say the whole [season] was a recruiting process. I was just trying to find the highs and lows and the good and bad. Ultimately, I just felt this was the road for me to win."

George is a five-time All-Star who just turned 28. For his career between Indiana and Oklahoma City, he’s averaged 18.6 points and 6.2 rebounds while connecting on 38 percent of his tries from 3-point range. Presti gambled a year ago by trading for George and Carmelo Anthony to join Westbrook in hopes of rejoining the NBA’s elite, which did not happen.

Anthony was recently traded to Atlanta as part of a three-team deal that netted the Thunder some more depth: Hawks point guard Dennis Schröder. On Wednesday, George lauded that move, calling Schröder "the best backup point guard in the league."

After the Thunder's playoff loss, George has said he saw potential in Oklahoma City. He seemed to enjoy pairing with former Kia MVP winner Russell Westbrook and the Thunder went 40-22 in their final 62 games of the regular season and got the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.

“I think we’ve set the bar at what we could be,” George said at the end of the season. “Obviously, it showed at times us just being together with our first year with the lapses and some of the losses that we’ve got this year. But as a whole, I had an amazing year here.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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