2018 Free Agency

Paul George says in ESPN special he is 'excited' for free agency

Short of LeBron James, few players on the prospective free-agent market this summer will be as talked about as Oklahoma City Thunder star guard Paul George. Like James, George has until June 29 to decide to exercise his player option for the 2018-19 season.

If George does opt out and test the free-agent waters, he says he will be both overwhelmed by and looking forward to that free agency experience.

Last night, the first of a three-part ESPN series called “Paul George: My Journey” aired and, in it, George discussed his career path to date and the potential free agency that awaits him in mere days. The final episode of the series will air after George makes his decision in free agency.

Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman has more from the special and what George had to say in it:

“It’s a lot of things that go into it — trying to find the right fit, what’s the best place for me to raise my kids,” George says in the first episode. “A lot is playing into this, so it’s a bit overwhelming.”

George says he wanted to play his entire career with the Pacers, but his agent Aaron Mintz says that changed when some key pieces from George’s Pacer heyday moved on. He reiterates that George wanted to let the Pacers know he wouldn’t be returning so Indiana could get value in a trade.

George’s year in Oklahoma City gets a passing mention, over some highlights, including the end of the season, a Game 6 loss to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs.

“Here they have made a huge risk in trading for me, knowing I have one year on my deal,” George says of the Thunder. “But I felt I didn’t finish as strong as I could have. Just knowing you left something on the table, even to this point now, it weighs on me.”

In Tuesday’s first episode, George says he’ll pick the front office that gives his team the best chance to win.

“I hope I make the majority of the people happy,” George says. “But ultimately it’s my decision and I want to be the happiest I can be with that decision. And I’m excited. I’m excited to go through this journey.”

In 79 games last season, George averaged 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and two steals per game in 36.6 minutes per game. Shortly after the Thunder lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Utah Jazz, George had a scope of his left knee performed. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks as he recovers from the injury.

Days ago, Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony reportedly opted into his deal with OKC for next season.

The Thunder traded for Anthony and George to join Russell Westbrook before last season, moves that gave them high hopes of challenging Golden State in the West. It didn’t work out as planned.

The 34-year-old Anthony had been the headliner his entire career – he’s 19th in NBA history with 25,417 points – but he was more of a catch-and-shoot scorer last season instead of the isolation specialist he had always been. He averaged 16.2 points per game, but struggled at times in his new role. His playing time dwindled in the playoffs and he wasn’t happy. In Game 6 of the first-round playoff series against Utah that ended Oklahoma City’s season, he played fewer minutes than backup Jerami Grant.

After the playoff loss, George said all the right things when asked if he’d consider staying with the Oklahoma City Thunder instead of leaving in free agency this summer.

“They honestly check the boxes where I needed those boxes to be checked from what a player wants and needs out of a front office, out of a medical group, out of teammates, out of a coaching staff,” George said on April 28. “I mean, honestly, I can’t say it any more than that. They checked the boxes on what needs to be checked.”

George’s camp showed interest in the Los Angeles Lakers last year before the Thunder made the deal with the Indiana Pacers to get him; Los Angeles is near his hometown. George said going home would be enticing, but that wouldn’t be the determining factor. He said he’d talk to Presti, Westbrook and coach Billy Donovan before making a decision.

“It will definitely be the opportunity on knowing, you know, team, personnel, and ultimately like what team will be assembled,” he said. “That’s the only thing that it will come down to.”

It wasn’t entirely clear after the season that Anthony would opt in. At that point, he said he preferred to play with the ball in his hands more and said coming off the bench is ”out of the question.”

Despite his confidence, the 10-time All-Star posted career lows in scoring average and field goal percentage last season. Thunder general manager Sam Presti said at the end of the season that he doesn’t expect Anthony’s role to change.

”I give him an enormous amount of credit for the fact that he put both feet in,” Presti said. ”I personally think he did an excellent job in his first year transitioning his game, working to becoming more of an off-the-ballplayer, being more reliant on other people to generate his offense, and sacrificing a lot. At the same time, I think every player is entitled to take a step back after the season, reflect on the year they had, and in his case have to make a determination about whether or not this is a role that he wants to continue to be functioning in.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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