Paul George has reportedly told the Oklahoma City Thunder he is opting out of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent. To George, the pursuit of a championship opportunity is the driving focus in whatever choice he makes.
And in expressing this in the second of his three-part ESPN special, George doesn't seem to rule out a return to the Thunder -- or perhaps a move back to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers.
"I'm going to get paid what I deserve off of what I bring to the table," George said. "That's not my concern. The most important thing is winning a championship."
George opens up talking about his love for Los Angeles, the Lakers and former star Kobe Bryant drove him to succeed as a basketball player.
“I love LA. This is home. I grew up watching Kobe," George said. "When I first fell in love with the game and I’m outside playing in front of the house, I’m not picturing myself in an Indiana jersey or picturing myself in a Thunder jersey, I picture myself in a Lakers jersey. Everyone in the league would say that they would love to go back home and play for their city. It’s just something about representing home.
In addition, he talks about entering free agency as a milestone moment of sorts in his career.
"This is what you play for in your career is this opportunity ... to ultimately pick where you want to go play at," George said.
George's agent, Aaron Mintz, features prominently in the episode and explains George's various contract options, including how re-signing with Oklahoma City would give George significantly more money than any other team can offer.
"I don't know if Oklahoma City would have gotten a free agency meeting if he didn't go there," Mintz said. "Now, instead of getting a two-hour free agency meeting with Paul, you get a year-long free agency meeting with Paul. So, do what you've got to do to try to convince him," Mintz said.
For Thunder GM Sam Presti, this opportunity to re-sign George is one the team is glad to have, he says.
"Players like Paul, one, there's not many of them," Presti said. "Two, they're not often available. And three, probably more specifically for us as a smaller market in the NBA, our access to that level of player it's not all the time just waiting for you. We felt like it was something that had to be done.
"We wouldn't have traded for Paul George if we didn't believe in our community, our organizational values, our ownership. If you Paul George or any player to have any confidence in you as an organization, you have to demonstrate it yourself. Scared money don't make none."
At the end of the special, George meets with Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade on June 15. Over glasses of wine, the duo discuss their careers and George asks Wade how he would approach George's situation this summer. Wade recalls his free agency of 2010, in which he was one of the NBA's marquee names, and how a conversation with LeBron James shifted his entire career.
"I'm going to tell you my mindset in 2010, when I was a free agent," Wade said. "For me, it wasn't about money. It wasn't about nothing but winning. A lot of people don't believe this [and] think we had this already set up. Bron called and said, 'what are you thinking?' I said, 'bro, I want to win championships. I'm tired of getting knocked out in the first round. This sucks.'
"What fulfilled me was raising that gold thing above my head. That moment fulfills you like no other moment. I knew that winning was going to bring everything I wanted and more."
Wade ended up re-signing with the Heat in 2010 as the team also added James and Chris Bosh via sign-and-trade deals. That trio made four straight NBA Finals from 2010-14, winning championships in 2012 and '13.
As for George's interest in the Lakers, he sounds intrigued by the possibility of a homecoming. But he also leaves the door open for a return to OKC as well.
“At the end of the day, that’s what I want to do. I want to be a champion. In a way, it’s like I want to come here, and play for the home team and put a Lakers jersey on. That’s always gonna be something that I want to fulfil, 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 doing so with (Russell Westbrook). Then there’s other places to from Boston to Clippers to…
(Wade cuts in here to tell George that whatever he decides, he can’t regret it).”
In the first episode of the ESPN special, George said he would be both overwhelmed by and looking forward to that free agency experience.
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