While the Lakers are still expected to be a strong contender for Paul George in free agency this summer, the forward’s latest public comments suggest he might be leaning toward remaining in Oklahoma City. As ESPN’s Royce Young writes, Russell Westbrook, who told reporters in strong terms on Wednesday that George should have been an All-Star, is a key reason why George will seriously consider re-signing with the Thunder.
“Russ is the reason why this decision is becoming even more easier to make… the character Russ [has],” George told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “A stand-up guy, and he has his teammate’s back.
“It was awesome for a teammate to have your back and to stand up,” George continued. “And to be honest, he should be a starter. He’s been the MVP, been the best player at his position. He should’ve been a starter, but that’s another story. But the fact Russ had my back, that’s my guy forever, and it’s more apparent what this decision needs to be made when it comes down to it.”
Although George sounds today like a man ready to stick with the Thunder when his current contract expires, plenty could change in the next five months — an early playoff exit, for instance, could hurt the team’s offseason recruiting pitch. Still, Oklahoma City will have George’s Bird rights, giving the team the ability to offer more years and more money than rival suitors, and the front office has to be encouraged by the relationship between its star forward and star point guard.
Westbrook is under contract with the Thunder through at least 2022, so if George wants to continue playing with the reigning MVP, re-upping in OKC on a long-term deal this summer would be the logical move.