- With the Thunder out of the playoffs, all eyes are now squarely on Paul George. Will he stay in OKC or choose to embark on a new journey?
“Playoff P” is officially on summer vacation.
After opening the 2018 playoffs with a bang, Paul George embarked on the offseason, and his long-anticipated free agency, with a whimper.
Oklahoma City’s five-time All-Star forward managed just five points on 2-16 shooting in a season-ending 96-91 road loss in Game 6 on Friday. George, who opened the first-round series by scoring 36 points in a Game 1 win, simply never found his shot, missing all six of his three-point attempts and getting to the foul line just twice. Forced to log 45 minutes as the Thunder desperately tried to extend their season, George had a night to forget, committing six turnovers and then catching a bad break when the referees controversially decided he wasn’t fouled during a last-minute shot attempt.
George, 27, joins LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul among this summer’s A-list free agents. While he told reporters following the Game 6 loss that he would use the upcoming months to weigh his decision, he spoke fondly of his time with the Thunder and expressed interest in returning.
“It was a lot to be happy about: the fans, the city, the organization,” George said. “Everything has been unbelievable. It’s too soon. I’d love to remain a Thunder, but that’s what this summer is for. We’ll address that in the summer.”
This decision is years in the making, as George has been a constant source of rumors since the 2016-17 season, when he indicated to the Pacers that he did not plan to re-sign in Indiana. Ultimately, he was traded to Oklahoma City last June, but the Thunder’s test year did not go as intended.
Despite forming a “Big 3” with Russell Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony, Oklahoma City won 48 games—just one more than the previous season—and suffered its second consecutive first-round exit. Instead of competing with “Superteams” like the Warriors and Rockets, the Thunder were inconsistent and too heavily dependent on Westbrook and George, leading to speculation that the latter might choose to play for his third team in three seasons once he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Paul George on upcoming free agency: ""Amazing season. Really, a learning experience... It was great. It was a lot to be happy about... Everything's been unbelievable. It's too soon. I'd love to remain a Thunder, but that's what the summer is for." pic.twitter.com/lQAUDzznbp— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 28, 2018
At times, George thrived in OKC, averaging 21.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 3.3 APG while shooting 43 FG% and 40.1 3P%. He formed an excellent perimeter defense pairing with Andre Roberson, prior to Roberson’s season-ending injury, and he found a workable balance with Westbrook. But Anthony’s disappointing season and the Thunder’s top-heavy roster prevented George from advancing in the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
In the face of a demoralizing and hard-fought loss, George struck a positive and optimistic tone.
“It was an amazing season,” he said. “Really, a learning experience playing off of [Westbrook], playing off of [Anthony]. [Steven Adams]. Seeing what the potential was like having [Roberson] out there. It was great.”
George’s extended comments about Oklahoma City stood in stark contrast to his comments about Indiana last year. Following a Game 4 loss in a sweep against the Cavaliers, George was asked about his interest in remaining with the Pacers.
“I ain’t even at that point, Bob,” George said curtly, addressing a local reporter by name. “Next question.”
He was traded roughly two months later.
Westbrook, meanwhile, signed a $200+ million contract extension last summer that runs through the 2022-23 season. Asked about his sidekick’s future following Friday’s loss, he deferred that line of questioning until after the dust settles on this season.
“The game just finished 30 minutes ago,” Westbrook told reporters. “Relax. Look at the season at the whole and then we go from there.”