For nearly a year, it appeared the Lakers were on course to land LeBron James and Paul George in free agency. The Lakers were the only team in the NBA to clear the necessary cap room to bring in two max free agents – and they were fined heavily last summer for alleged tampering with George.
But 11 months of interest in George evaporated on June 15th, when multiple outlets reported that Kawhi Leonard demanded a trade from San Antonio. As much as I like George, Leonard plays the same position, is younger, and more accomplished. Leonard, a two-time defensive player of the year, is considered a Top 5 player in the NBA; George is more in the 10-15 range.
In the 15 days that followed the news of Leonard’s trade demand, another story began taking shape: “Chatter” around the league about Paul George possibly staying in Oklahoma City. The timing is just too coincidental.
A blogger transcribed a Woj TV hit on June 18th: “Oklahoma City has a good chance of bringing Paul George back. They are in a good position to retain him.”
On Friday, June 29th, Zach Lowe wrote this: “The Lakers stared down a similar situation a year ago with Paul George, opted to sit tight and must feel nerves reading chatter — chatter I’d consider at least fairly credible — that George is leaning toward staying in Oklahoma City.
Mark Stein of the New York Times made mention of George possibly staying in his newsletter in the days leading up to July 1st.
Prior to the Kawhi Leonard demand, the majority of the reports were that Paul George was “gone.”
Take for instance Ryen Russillo on May 1. “Today is the first time I’ve heard from anybody that I trust that George is gone … I don’t know where. It’s a ‘He’s gone’ deal.” That was a few days after the Thunder’s 1st round playoff loss.
Yes, I did go digging for credible pre-Kawhi demand notes. Stein, on June 12) makes mention of Paul George … getting a pitch from the Lakers:
"There is a growing belief around the league that Oklahoma City has a far better chance to retain the free agent-to-be Paul George than many believed when the Thunder crashed out of the first round of the playoffs. As George prepares to field the Lakers’ long-anticipated interest, his willingness to post an Instagram picture of himself last month from a hospital bed after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee has helped to fuel the notion in some corners that he’s in no rush to leave OKC."
So what suddenly changed? Kawhi Leonard. I’m not saying it’s right that the Lakers – or LeBron, if you want – ghosted Paul George in the days/weeks leading up to free agency, but to say there’s 0% chance that it happened this way is disingenuous.