Paul George is twenty-three years old and he’s ready to break out. His progression up to this point has been steady if not remarkable, burgeoning from a hyper-athletic project to one of the league’s most versatile all-stars. In the most marquee of match-ups, PG24 didn’t back down from LeBron James one inch and earned the respect of this generation’s greatest player. It’s natural, really, for Laker fans to be sauntering over George, whose eclectic fashion sense suggests he’s ready for the LA spotlight. And after this season, Paul George’s rookie contract will expire. In an interview over the summer, George expressed that it would be tough to “say no to Kobe, man” because it’d be “playing at home” (George is from Palmdale). In a sense, Paul George and the cap-happy Lakers are a perfect match.
But today, Paul George agreed to the maximum contract extension, a deal that will keep him in the Midwest for another 5-years and pay him a handsome $80 million. His justification was a PR masterpiece, citing loyalty and the ability to win championships in Indiana (he’s right, also. I maintain that if Roy Hibbert is on the floor for the last play in Game 1, Indiana takes the series). But what’s more, I don’t think Paul George has any interest in spending the prime of his career as a second fiddle to a certain Kobe Bean Bryant. He doesn’t want to be a second option, nor should he- dude has superstar written all over him. He doesn’t want to spend crunch time in the corner as a never used decoy to the ever-present Kobe iso. He would, however, jump at the prospect of becoming the face of the Los Angeles Lakers. Problem is, there already is a face of the Los Angeles Lakers, a man whose commitment to stay on top rivals that of a despotic dictator. And this face makes $10 million more per year than anyone else and has been documented in saying that he’s extremely hesitant to accept a drastic pay cut despite his age and the team’s sticky situation.
Let’s pull the band-aid off quick. I’ve bit my tongue countless times the instant before this harsh truth came out, but I’m ready to finally accept reality:
Kobe Bryant is the Lakers’ biggest obstacle in recruiting free agents. And despite the organic rise of the Oklahoma City Thunder (they drafted KD, RussWest, and Harden back-to-back years. Think about that for a second.), landing coveted free agents is the fastest path to competing for championships. Just ask Pat Riley and Micky Arison.