Ever since Paul George asked the Indiana Pacers to trade him last summer, many have thought his eventual destination to be with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018.
Reports left and right linked George to the hometown Lakers, as they had just traded away D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov in an effort to clear cap space to try and make a splash in free agency this summer. But just like any max-level free agent, there are always going to be teams trying to get in the mix for their services.
The Oklahoma City Thunder swooped in and made a deal for George by sending Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the Pacers. With a season in Oklahoma City and a playoff appearance under his belt, many expect the Thunder and Lakers to be the top two teams to sign George this summer.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski believes that may be the case, but expect at least two more teams to push hard to get in the George sweepstakes (20:04 mark):
“I think Oklahoma City has done a great job of selling Paul George on them. When he left Indiana, his mind was on LA, that wherever he was for a year, he would go to the Lakers. But I don’t think it’s just LA and Oklahoma City. I think Philadelphia and Houston are teams that are going to be aggressive with him, and why wouldn’t you look at every place and every situation? While [the Lakers and Thunder] may be the two frontrunners, I think [George] is going to have an open mind about more than that in the league.”
It should come as no surprise that not only will George have teams lining up to try and sign him, but also that George could enter his first free agency period with an open mind. This is the first time in his professional career that he will have a chance to choose where he wants to play. So, like Wojnarowski said, why not take a look at all of your options?
The 76ers have enough cap space to sign George, but the Rockets would have to get creative to acquire him, very similar to their seemingly inevitable pursuit of LeBron James.
One advantage the Lakers will have over these teams is enough cap flexibility to offer two max contracts, once the situation with Luol Deng’s contract is resolved, either by trade or waiving and stretching his contract. For the Thunder, they have a star already in place in Russell Westbrook. George and Westbrook appear to have a good relationship, so perhaps that could help the Thunder’s chances.
For those reasons, it appears the Lakers and Thunder are the safest bets to sign George to a deal this summer. But expect other teams like Philadelphia and Houston to make a push. Also, don’t be surprised if some teams not being mentioned try to get in on the action.
While the Lakers are in a good position to pursue marquee free agents in a few weeks, they still better have the right sales pitch ready. The hardest part in this process is still to come.
For the full podcast from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith with Adrian Wojnarowski, click here. You can follow this author on Twitter at @garykester.