The OKC Thunder visit Los Angeles to play the Lakers on Wednesday night and that means Paul George is in town. As an opponent. The Lakers — fined for tampering related to Paul George this past summer — and their fans (photoshopping George into forum blue and gold colored unis for months) would like for George to remain in LA, starting next July 1st, for the foreseeable future as one of their own, however.
This interest in George goes beyond normal FA lust that teams and fanbases typically have, though. And that’s because while George has long been linked to the Lakers, that connection only got strong when, this past off-season, he reportedly went to Pacers ownership and told them that he would not be returning to Indiana in the summer of 2018, that he wanted to be traded, and that his preferred landing spot was in LA with the Lakers.
So, now that he’s in LA to play against the Lakers, you know what he was asked. Turns out, he’s not really backing off the comments he made last summer. From the OC Register’s Bill Oram:
“I wanted to go home,” George said Wednesday morning, hours before leading the Oklahoma City Thunder into Staples Center. “Simple as that.”
Before leaving Oklahoma City on Tuesday, he told local reporters that the deal that landed him in the Sooner State was a win-win, but that he did not regret that his desire to play for the Lakers became public.
“All that was said was a destination I would have loved to go to,” he said. “There wasn’t a gun pointed to the head, ‘Hey, send me here.’ I just stated somewhere I wanted to go play. You ask 80, 70 percent of guys in the league if they would love to go back home and play for their city, play for their home.”
On Wednesday, George reiterated those sentiments while speaking glowingly about playing in front of friends and family at Staples Center, something that harkens back to his childhood.
“This has just been a tradition within the household,” he said, “to watch Laker games.”
Two things. First, George seems fine reiterating what was reported earlier this summer, but what do you expect him to say? Especially when talking to the press in LA? That he meant what he said then, but doesn’t anymore? “No comment” wasn’t going to fly, though I guess he could have tried. Him showing some love to his hometown team or speaking kindly about Lonzo Ball (which he also did) is great, of course, but that’s just talk. Which leads me to my second point…
Hearing George (or any prospective free agent) talk this way is great, but I’ll believe a marquee guy signs with the Lakers this summer when…a marquee guy actually signs. I’ve said this about the LeBron rumors and I’ll say it about George, too. Guys can drop hints or even make outright statements about their love of Los Angeles/the Lakers/Magic Johnson/Lonzo Ball/Rob Pelinka’s stories. But until they agree to a deal with the Lakers, it’s all just talk.
Now, the signaling George is giving off is stronger than any other free agent on the market and that feels great. I makes things seem more realistic. And, if he does indeed sign, all of what he’s said before would make it so it’s not a huge surprise. But July 1st is 6 full months away. A lot can happen in that amount of time. And, since that’s the case, I’m just going to chill a bit.
If you want to run wild with this, though, by all means. I just can’t do it. Even if, again, stuff like this does make me perk up a bit.