Free agency is nigh.
Earlier this morning, ESPN reported that soon-to-be free agent Paul George opted out of the final year of his contract. This will make him an unrestricted free agent after 11:59 p.m. ET Friday night.
This was to be expected. George stands to make more money by opting out of his final year regardless of if he chooses to stay in Oklahoma City or takes his talents elsewhere.
The prevailing options amongst the two popular destinations–Oklahoma City and Los Angeles–are thus:
George can sign a five-year max contract with the Thunder and earn $176 million. Oklahoma City can offer the fifth year due to the bird rights attained in the trade with the Indiana Pacers. If he chooses to move west to the Lakers, he can sign a four-year deal worth $130 million.
In the age of big-name stars singing one-year/two-year deals with a player option, George can also sign a two-year plus one with Oklahoma City and then be eligible for a five-year max two years later when he turns 30. Once players hit the ten-year service mark, they become eligible for the super max–the deal Russell Westbrook signed with the Thunder last offseason.
According to reports from Adrian Wojnarowski, George “remains seriously interested in joining the Thunder in free agency,” although the Los Angeles Lakers have long appeared to be the favorite. Wojnarowski added on the 6:00 p.m. ET edition of SportsCenter however, “LA may be trailing OKC in the race to get Paul George.”
With the drama surrounding Magic Johnson’s attempt to bring stars to Los Angeles, many see the Lakers’ attempt at trying to force a trade with San Antonio to acquire Kawhi Leonard as evidence that they believe George will in fact stay with the Thunder. Los Angeles’ ultimate goal is to attract LeBron James, but in order to do that, they need assurance to show James–Leonard or George.
George’s ESPN special Paul George: My Journey is on part II of III. Tomorrow will round out the series on SportsCenter.
For Oklahoma City fans, these specials reveal a behind-the-scenes look at the elements that make up the free agency process. Of course, many fans of the Thunder still suffer the scar of Kevin Durant’s departure, and may be numb to what some may consider a self-indulgent piece. Regardless, the scenes and verbiage used in these specials are interesting to point out.
Sam Presti makes an appearance in part II where he steals the show by quoting A Tribe Called Quest’s song Midnight in reference to what went into taking the gamble of George on a one-year deal:
“Scared money don’t make none,” Presti said.
These specials beg a few questions. Everything in the world of big-money athletics is calculated–optics reign supreme. If the smart money is indeed…smart, and George does choose to play for the Lakers, then he is going about it in an odd way.
Imagine if Durant had done a similar special in July 2016–knowing his ultimate decision to join Golden State would destroy many fans’ affection for him and possibly damage relationships built during nine years of work with the same franchise–and he allowed Presti to make an appearance in it.
It just doesn’t seem right, nor would it be in good taste.
While ESPN is in control of this mini-documentary series, make no mistake that George has a strong say in what can and cannot appear in the final cut.
Dwyane Wade makes an appearance to offer advice to George over a bottle of red wine. The candid George admits:
I want to be a champion. In a way I want to come here (the meeting took place in Los Angeles), I wanna play for the home team and put a Laker jersey on. That’s always going to be something I want to fulfill. But at the same time, it’s like, ‘What’s the best move, though?’ I know who I am as a player and I just want to help a team win, and I feel comfortable with Russ.
Is George doing his best to soften the blow of a fanbase being disappointed? Does he fear a Durant-esque blow back from his hometown fans in Los Angeles? Is he repeatedly pointing out his affection for playing with Westbrook to soften the blow of leaving Oklahoma City?
We will find out in the next week.