“Perhaps you’ve heard,” Paul George has returned the Oklahoma City Thunder, as The Oklahoman‘s Berry Trammel jokingly said to Sam Presti at his press conference last week.
It was the story that rocked the offseason this side of a Klutch Sports Group press release. But even that news offered as much surprise as finding out the latest DC Universe movie was subpar.
George’s decision to stay in Oklahoma City sent shockwaves through the basketball world. The southern-California star spurned a potential dynasty with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers for the middle of America. It is something that everyone was surprised, nay, shocked to see unfold.
But how do players see this news? What goes through their minds amidst the NBA free agency/Twitter/did-you-see-what-he-said-in-his-Instagram-comments world? The age where fans gain their water cooler talk from something a player said yesterday in practice:
Did you see that ESPN interview yesterday? He said, “Year one” a few times! He’s coming back!
Another player said something like that a few years ago and left, these players are liars!
“It can be frustrating,” George said during Thunder media day. “At the end of the day, we’re the only ones that know, we gotta be happy with who we are and the decision we make.”
George, a player who has a reputation of telling those around him what they want to here, now has a new life as a member of the Thunder. No more contract talk or speculation on his next destination. He doesn’t have to sugar coat anything for the time being if he so chooses.
“You say one thing and someone puts this story out or this story out,” George said. “It is frustrating.“
It was easy to see that George’s decision to not stay home and sign with the Lakers still affects him during his press conference. In a question about Kawhi Leonard, George mentioned that he and Leonard expressed their desire to “play for the hometown team,” but that when his decision came up, he ultimately chose Oklahoma City. Who can blame him if it still affects him? He’s a human being.
These guys are plugged in like the rest of us are. They have their thoughts and opinions on the world around them. Of course athletes, let alone professional basketball players — who in the last decade have risen to a level of celebrity higher than other professional athletes — understand that they’re under a magnifying glass.
“It’s a part of our job and it’s only going to affect us,” George added. “You’re going to make people upset.”
Make no mistake, these decisions weigh on players. That does not mean they are not happy with their current situation. It does not mean you should rush to your phone and make irrational claims on the weight of one sentence, although that will never stop.
“Whether it was to play back home or in Oklahoma, you have to be happy with your decisions,” George said.
The Thunder have their foundation set. A strong playoff run is not out of the question when you have George, Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams running the floor together. That and the Thunder culture are what opened George’s eyes to the reality that this could work for him on and off the floor.
Although there may still be feelings of sadness that he let his hometown down in some circles, George is happy with his future with the Thunder. Like any other human being who earns the privilege of choosing their own destiny would.
And no one should blame him.