Russell Westbrook was infuriated after NBA coaches failed to vote Paul George into the 2018 NBA All-Star Game as a reserve. Now, his snubbed teammate said the league’s reigning MVP has made it easier for him to make a decision on his future with his first unrestricted free agency looming this summer.
In an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, George was asked what he thought when he heard what Westbrook had to say about him not making the All-Star Game. His response could be good news for both an Oklahoma City Thunder team and fan base hoping one of the league’s top two-way wings stays in town.
What did you think about what Russ had to say about you not making All-Star?
“Russ is the reason why this decision is becoming even more easier to make, is the character Russ [has]. A stand-up guy, and he has his teammate’s back.”
“We were actually joking before he went up there, and I’m like, ‘Nah, Russ, man, just let it go, let it go Russ. It is what it is, I wasn’t picked,’ and he was like, ‘Nah, man, P, that’s messed up. I’m gonna tell them something about that,’” George said.
”It was awesome for a teammate to have your back and to stand up,” he said. “And to be honest, he should be a starter. He’s been the MVP, been the best player at his position. He should’ve been a starter, but that’s another story. But the fact Russ had my back, that’s my guy forever, and it’s more apparent what this decision needs to be made when it comes down to it.”
George’s comments to Nichols came after Westbrook went on a tirade following OKC’s one-point Jan. 23 win over Brooklyn, visibly frustrated that his All-Star-caliber teammate was not voted in, despite other teams in the West — mainly the Warriors — getting four All-Stars.
Russell Westbrook called it “outrageous” that Paul George was not named an All-Star: pic.twitter.com/62vmKKbFSx— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 24, 2018
“Unbelievable. I think it’s just outrageous, in my opinion,” Westbrook said, according to ESPN’s Royce Young, reportedly closing his eyes and shaking his head. “I don’t know who else made the team but got four people from one team, you’ve got guys complaining about getting snubbed until they get in, you’ve got guys just talking about it all the time.
“But the guys that deserve it — should be in — are not. I just don’t understand. Doesn’t make any sense.”
This is a good thing for Thunder fans, right?
Well in theory, yes. George has been one of the NBA’s top perimeter defenders this season, topping the league in several hustle stats and ranking second in the league in total steals. He has become a reliable three-point shooter, playmaker, and co-star next to Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, who have stabilized after a rocky start to the season and are now 14-0 since Dec. 1 when all five starters are healthy.
George has often been linked to the Los Angeles Lakers in both the free agency and trade market, and he said himself he would embrace the opportunity to return where it all started and play in front his hometown friends and family. It seems now that Oklahoma City may have won him over, and Russ — maybe unintentionally — is leading the charge to keep one of the league’s best players in town.
But haven’t we heard something like this before?
Yup. Right before reports broke that George had spoken to Pacers’ management and informed them of his pending decision to leave the franchise (preferably for Los Angeles), he was at a softball game talking about how much he wanted to bring a championship to Indiana. And George was head over heels back in love with L.A. and the Lakers when the Thunder visited (and destroyed, 133-96) his hometown team in early January.
It all boils down to this: George is open about his thought process, and it gives us a lot to talk about.
In an interview ahead of his first game as an opponent at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indiana, George was very candid about his reason for leaving the Pacers.
“With him (Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard) stepping into a new position, I wanted to see what talent was going to be brought in,” George said, via the IndyStar’s Clifton Brown. “I wanted some assurances of what the team was going to look like. But then it got to the point where it was on my shoulders, with the guys that were being brought in. I didn’t want that burden, not knowing the certainty of how long I was going to be there. I didn’t want to put anyone in a position where ‘Well, Paul steered them one way, and then he left.’ So, I said, ‘I’ll be up front, I’ll put everything on the table, tell them at the end of my contract, I plan to not re-sign.”’
And just in early January, George was noncommittal about returning to OKC, though he didn’t rule it out either:
“I’ve got a lot to think about. This summer will be huge. I’ve got a lot to think about. If we’re trending, if we’re going in the right direction, if I feel there is something that we’re building, and there’s a foundation, it would be kind of clueless, just stupid on my behalf to up and leave. I’m very conscious that we’re only together for a year so far, and we continue to go in an upward trend. It’s best to stick with what we have and work on building. So I would say it’s championship or bust, or championship and I’m out. It’s all about building. If I like what we’re building or the level that we’re going at, it would be stupid to walk away from that.”
Now, it appears the two-way star is at least slightly leaning toward to stay in Oklahoma City, and for good reason: The Thunder have a lot more talent than he could find on most other teams. Things can change in the blink of an eye, and George’s recency bias may show itself in the future.
But as long as PG13 continues to be candid and open about his thoughts, we’ll all have more to talk about.