The Oklahoma City Thunder have reportedly been informed by All-Star guard Paul George that he will not opt into his contract for next season.
The move, which was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, will make George an unrestricted free agent. He had until 11:59 p.m. ET on June 29 to decide whether or not to opt in. Here’s more from Wojnarowski on the move and what it means for George, the Thunder and free agency at large:
George, who will decline a $20.7 million salary for the 2018-19 season, remains seriously interested in returning to the Thunder in free agency, league sources said. The Los Angeles Lakers will receive serious consideration too, sources said.
Several teams, including Philadelphia and Houston, are interested in pursuing George too, league sources said.
Indiana traded George to the Thunder a year ago, where the five-time All-Star forward came to build a strong relationship with All-Star guard Russell Westbrook and averaged 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
Before his trade, George had told the Pacers that he planned to sign with the Lakers in free agency this summer. Nevertheless, Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti, coach Billy Donovan and Westbrook have made a strong case on a future with the Thunder and moved the franchise into contention with the Lakers.
George, a native of Southern California, and LeBron James are the focus of the Lakers free agent recruiting efforts.
This summer, George can sign a five-year, $176 million extension with OKC, Wojnarowski reports, or he could do a “one-plus one” deal and return to free agency next summer.
George’s decision is not wholly surprising, given that he has been one of the top free-agent targets for many teams all season long.
On Tuesday night, the first of a three-part ESPN series called “Paul George: My Journey” aired. 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.
In that special, George said that if he did opt out, he would be both overwhelmed by and looking forward to that free agency experience.
“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 said. “A lot is playing into this, so it’s a bit overwhelming.”
In the special, George said he wants to pick the front office that gives him 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.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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