The Lakers’ plan to sign multiple star free agents this summer hinges on Paul George. The Oklahoma City Thunder forward made it clear last year that he wanted out of Indiana and that his preferred destination was LA where he could play for the Lakers.
Ultimately, the Pacers traded their franchise star instead of risking losing him for nothing in free agency. Now in OKC, George is trying to fit in with an altered lineup where he must share the ball with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.
The Thunder did not jump out of the gate strong and random losses have had effects on the team’s morale making many wonder whether George would stay in this situation past the season. The Thunder have made it clear they are not willing to trade their new star player but he is still an impending free agent.
On Wednesday, ahead of the Thunder’s game against the Lakers, Russell Westbrook was asked about what he would do to ensure that George stays in Oklahoma City. In typical Russ fashion, Westbrook remained confident both in his team and in George’s decision, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
“The sales pitch is when we win a championship. Beat that pitch.”
Westbrook has gained a reputation as someone who is difficult to play with despite his undeniable talent. He is never willing to bring himself down in order to kiss up to teammates. That was, to an extent, evident when Kevin Durant left OKC for the Golden State Warriors.
If the Thunder’s only pitch to Paul George is based on their ability to win the NBA title then they are in for a rude awakening. The Thunder’s struggles may have been a bit exaggerated (currently fifth in the West with the eighth best net rating in the league) but in order to beat the juggernaut Warriors (and even the Spurs, Rockets, and Cavaliers, for that matter), you have to have a juggernaut of your own. The Thunder, despite their talent, are not that juggernaut.
All of this is, of course, great news for the Los Angeles Lakers. Westbrook is not kissing up to George. The Thunder are streaky and have the potential to implode even against bottom tier competition. George is speaking openly about the desire he had to play for his hometown team.
There are no guarantees in the NBA; anything can change in the blink of an eye. But for now, the Lakers must feel very hopeful and encouraged about their chances of prying George away from the Thunder.