As soon as the Jazz eliminated the Thunder in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs, all eyes in Oklahoma City turned toward Paul George. Rumors have been swirling around the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent all season long, and multiple reports have him leaving OKC and joining the Lakers alongside LeBron James.
But the Thunder still have a good chance to keep the five-time All-Star, according to Marc Stein of The New York Times. From Stein’s most recent newsletter:
There is a growing belief around the league that Oklahoma City has a far better chance to retain the free agent-to-be Paul George than many believed when the Thunder crashed out of the first round of the playoffs.
As George prepares to field the Lakers’ long-anticipated interest, his willingness to post an Instagram picture of himself last month from a hospital bed after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee has helped to fuel the notion in some corners that he’s in no rush to leave OKC.
From Instagram: I guess Paul George is having surgery today? pic.twitter.com/ZcDnf66MJn
— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) May 9, 2018
George made it clear in April the final result of the season wouldn’t “persuade or indicate where I’m going to this offseason,” so this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. He has also grown close to triple-double machine Russell Westbrook, saying this past season the 2017 NBA MVP was making his decision “easier.”
“Russ is the reason why this decision is becoming even more easier to make, is the character Russ [has],” George said in January (via ESPN’s Royce Young). “A stand-up guy, and he has his teammate’s back.”
This is all positive news for Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who sent Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the Pacers last summer in exchange for George. OKC’s front office is ready to sign a big check to keep George, even if it means paying a hefty tax bill.
George, who averaged 21.9 points per game and shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range in 2017-18, could re-sign with the Thunder on a five-year deal worth around $175-180 million (starting at just over $30 million in the first season). Assuming George stays and Carmelo Anthony takes his $27.9 million player option — and factoring in the repeater tax, which hits teams for exceeding the tax threshold in three out of the previous four seasons — OKC could be looking at a $250-300 million roster.
But none of that matters if George isn’t willing to commit to the Thunder. There are reasons to believe he will remain in Oklahoma City, but free agency is always full of surprises, especially with the Lakers lurking in the background.