Paul George just had the time of his life playing in the 2018 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. The former Most Improved Player winner was one of eight All-Stars in Team LeBron who finished the game in double figures, scoring 16 points, grabbing five boards, and dishing out four assists in 27 minutes of play coming off the bench.
George, a Palmdale, California native, was the only non-starter on the floor in the final minutes for head coach Dwane Casey. He played in place of New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis, who is considered to be one of the top five players in the league right now, which is a clear indication of how popular George is in La La Land.
The fans had also treated well the former Knight High School standout. From the moment George sat down for his interview during the NBA All-Star media day prior to the game, chants of “We want Paul! We want Paul!” echoed in the building, as per ESPN.
“It makes you feel great,” George said, referring to the fans’ adoration. “I love it. It’s not to say that I don’t. I felt the energy. I know where the love is.”
“It feels good to be welcome. I think anybody would want to be wanted and be welcomed.”
However, when asked if he had already decided where to go when he enters unrestricted free agency this summer, George’s answer was predictably safe.
“I know what I feel is best, but it’s a long way until the end of the season.”
George had consistently said that he is happy playing with Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, but, interestingly, he never mentioned anything about staying in OKC as a sure thing.
With that, rumors still abound that George would decide to join his hometown club when he hits the open market in July.
ESPN host Max Kellerman has been one of a few Paul George-to-Lakers believers.
In a recent episode of First Take, Kellerman predicted that George “is going to the Lakers” as the five-time NBA All-Star would take advantage of his upcoming free agency to fulfill his dream of playing in Los Angeles.
Kellerman noted that most players do not leave their mother teams until “year seven,” after their rookie contract was done and they have played a few extra years for their clubs. He said that a player has no choice about his playing future “except for one moment in your career,” which is when a player becomes a free agent in his prime.
“No one ever leaves in their first seven years. They may get traded, but for the first seven years, they keep getting the money. After year seven, you have a choice, you control your destiny. That will be the only time you do it in your prime. So here’s Paul George’s moment. He’s from L.A. I think he wants to play for the Lakers and not in Oklahoma City.”
The Los Angeles Times’ Tania Ganguli reported that George’s “homecoming transcends the business of basketball” and that his summer decision would be more about what makes him happy.
George’s older sister, Teiosha, said that he had “always wanted to play at home in L.A., but the Thunder have done a great job of making him feel valued.” She then said that it would be a “tough decision” for him to make when the time comes.
Truly, his decision whether to join the Lakers or stay in OKC being tough is an understatement. But George himself knows in his heart where he wants to go as early as now.
“It’s funny but at the end of the day I know where my decision lands, or what my decision is, and that’s all that matters,” George said, via the Orange County Register.