Paul George revealed to ESPN’s The Undefeated that he “would have been in a Lakers uniform” if he had never been traded from the Indiana Pacers. But after the Pacers dealt the five-time All-Star to the Oklahoma City Thunder instead last year, he fell in love with his new team and playing with Russell Westbrook before eventually agreeing to a four-year, $137 million contract extension this past offseason.
“It was 50-50 on deciding whether I wanted to come back home or if it was smarter to be in the situation I am in now,” George told The Undefeated. “But it wasn’t overstated. I wanted to play in L.A. That is where I wanted to go. Had that trade never went down, had I played one more year in Indy, I would have been in a Lakers uniform.”
The Thunder acquired George from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis on July 6, 2017. Before that trade, George was most intrigued by the thought of being dealt to the Lakers. The Lakers had the key piece to make such a move as they owned the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA draft or forward Brandon Ingram, a source said. The Lakers, however, kept the No. 2 selection to draft UCLA guard Lonzo Ball and never dealt Ingram. George was disappointed that the Lakers did not value him enough to make the trade with the Pacers at the time, a source said.
The Lakers hoped to meet with the Palmdale, California, native during free agency this past July in hopes of signing him. George, however, quietly made a decision to re-sign with the Thunder before free agency arrived and never met with the Lakers. The Lakers would go on to sign NBA star LeBron James as a free agent. George also told The Undefeated that he spoke with James about his possible future plans before the Thunder trade when James was playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they never had a similar conversation afterward.
George returns to Los Angeles for the first time since deciding to re-sign with Oklahoma City to play the LA Clippers on Friday.
“Going toward the summer and going toward free agency, I kind of had my mind made up talking with the team, talking with Russ and talking with the front-office,” George said. “I kind of felt good where we were at. Last [season], I didn’t get a chance to start with this team fresh. I got traded late. So, I picked up things late with the team. I wanted to get to it right away this time and start creating early.”
It was a risky gamble for Thunder general manager Sam Presti when he traded for George. George averaged 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game last season for the Thunder. George, Westbrook and then-teammate Carmelo Anthony, however, lost to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs in six games. George could have walked away for nothing from the Thunder. But despite the Thunder’s shortcomings last season, George liked what he saw for the future with Westbrook signed long term, so he re-signed.
Looking back, George praised Presti for gambling on him.
“It was a hell of a gamble. That was balls to go against L.A. They tried it, tested their luck and Sam came up lucky,” George said.