In a minor shock, Paul George committed to sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder just as 2018 NBA free agency was set to officially begin, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Woj reports that George agreed to a 4-year deal worth $137 million, with a player option for 2021-22.
The Thunder traded for the All-Star wing a year ago despite rampant, credible reports that George planned to sign with the L.A. Lakers as a free agent this summer. Instead, OKC locked PG-13 up without the Lakers even getting a(n official) meeting with the free agent.
OKC’s big bet paid off as they will now have two stars — George and Russell Westbrook — under contract for the next couple of seasons. Unfortunately, a team led by those two stars and Carmelo Anthony got laughed out of the NBA playoffs by the Utah Jazz this spring ... and Anthony opted into his massive deal.
That liability, plus George’s new deal and other commitments, could mean a hefty luxury tax bill for the small market Thunder, assuming OKC doesn’t trade Steven Adams (making $24 million) or stretch Melo’s contract.
This is what makes George’s quick decision so striking: he had a potential opportunity to team up with LeBron James with the Lakers, or to sign with the rising Philadelphia 76ers or contending Houston Rockets. Instead, he chose to stay in a less promising basketball situation in one of the least glamorous markets in the league, and did it without taking any other (official) meetings. That says something about George’s priorities, his belief in Westbrook and the renowned Thunder organization, and his comfort in Oklahoma City over the past year.
It’s also a pretty big blow for the Lakers, though LeBron himself may salve those wounds just fine within the next couple of days. The Lakers didn’t get too heavily into the trade bidding for George a year ago, refusing to pay for a player they thought they’d be able to sign outright a year later. That strategy didn’t exactly work out, and could have a bearing on how Lakers bosses Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka deal with the disturbingly similar Kawhi Leonard situation.
As noted, the Thunder are financially strapped now. Stretching Melo’s contract over three years would extend the cap hit but provide immediate relief on the luxury tax bill. But it wouldn’t likely offer much in the way of flexibility to chase additional pieces to actually improve OKC’s chances in a Western Conference that could get even tougher next season.
You never turn down a chance to keep stars like Westbrook and George around, but having two stars just doesn’t solve all of your problems. The Melo move was a mistake with this caveat: we don’t know whether trading Anthony convinced Westbrook to sign his massive extension in August 2017 and how Melo being around helping make George comfortable in OKC. The on-court results with Melo didn’t work, but that’s only part of the story here.
We’ll see if the Thunder keep Melo around now that they have both stars locked under contract. The hard part is over for the front office. Now the hard part begins for the players.