After suffering an early exit in the Western Conference Playoffs, Paul George is expected to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July. Multiple NBA rumors suggested that George could be headed to his hometown team, Los Angeles Lakers, where he could potentially team up with Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James.
However, according to Stephen A. Smith of ESPN (h/t Bleacher Report), league sources reportedly told him that Paul George remains unsure if he will leave the Thunder for the Lakers this offseason. Aside from his good relationship with Russell Westbrook, Smith said that the Thunder’s plan to give George a maximum contract will make it harder for the Lakers to convince George to play with them next season.
Despite the rumors linking him to the Lakers, there were multiple occasions when George expressed his desire to stay with the Thunder. The 28-year-old small forward believes that one season is not enough to tell that he and Carmelo Anthony cannot coexist with Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Unlike the Lakers who are mostly consisting of young players, the Thunder are already built to win an NBA championship title, and the only thing they need to do right now is to continue building the team’s chemistry.
Smith believes that failing to acquire Paul George this offseason will put the Lakers in a huge dilemma. As most people think, LeBron James will only sign with the Lakers once he knows that they have enough pieces that could help him contend for the title next season. The Lakers have rising superstars like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma, but James already made it clear that he’s not interested in playing alongside young and inexperienced players.
If George re-signs with the Thunder, the Lakers may consider engaging in a blockbuster trade with the San Antonio Spurs to acquire Kawhi Leonard. After having a one-on-one conversation with Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich, Leonard reportedly wanted his way out of San Antonio and prefers to be traded to the Lakers. James will surely love the idea of teaming up with a known “LeBron stopper” who is also considered one of the best two-way players in the league.
However, Smith said the Leonard-to-Lakers trade is “not a foregone conclusion” since the Spurs are reportedly trying to send the disgruntled superstar to a non-Western Conference team. This gives Eastern Conference teams with a plethora of trade assets like the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers a higher chance of adding Leonard to their team.
If the Lakers fail to land Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, or LeBron James, they could still preserve their salary cap space in preparation for 2019 free agency which will feature other NBA superstars like Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Klay Thompson. Failing to acquire a superstar will also give them more time to develop their young core, which is very important if they want to build a dynasty like the Golden State Warriors.