After weeks of speculation about his immediate future, superstar forward Paul George was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder right before NBA free agency got underway.
No one saw the Thunder as a trade candidate for the Indiana Pacers with the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Los Angeles Lakers thought to be among the teams most likely to acquire the perennial All-Star. The consensus now is that George is simply a one-year rental for Oklahoma City as the team tries to convince him to stay long-term as part of a dynamic duo with MVP Russell Westbrook.
As for the Lakers, who many believe has the edge in signing George next summer, the question is whether George landing in Oklahoma City was the best-case scenario for Los Angeles. The initial fear for the Lakers with all the trade rumors swirling was George might have a change of heart if he landed with a title contender like the Celtics, Cavs or even the Houston Rockets after they acquired Chris Paul.
In this week’s Lakers Nation Roundtable, we ask our expert panel the question everyone is asking after the shocking trade:
Is Paul George getting traded to the Thunder the best-case scenario for the Lakers?
Nick Torres (@Nickotee)
With Paul George headed to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a trade, the Lakers are now left waiting until next summer when George becomes an unrestricted free agent to hopefully join the purple and gold. George has made it know he would like to return home and join the Lakers and only time will tell if that holds true. Many can argue that the Lakers dropped the ball by not offering enough to acquire George, but I would counter that argument by saying the Lakers might actually be in better position to land George next summer.
As good as Russell Westbrook is he is a very ball dominant player and is at his best with the ball in his hands. This past season he was a triple-double machine, and it helped him win the Most Valuable Player Award. The good thing for the Lakers is that the Thunder will still be among the fourth to the sixth-best team in the West after the George trade. I still see the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Houston Rockets ahead of them. It is going to be difficult for George and Westbrook to climb their way up the conference standings and that is why I believe George will ultimately leave Oklahoma City. It is going to be too tough for them to keep pace with the top teams in the conference.
The positive thing about the Lakers is that they have their foundation in place already. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Ivica Zubac make up the core of the team, and a player of George’s caliber will turn them into a contending team in a couple of years. It is going to be interesting to see how George’s season plays out with Thunder.
Eric Avakian (@EAvakian5)
When taking a look at the Paul George trade, it seems as though the real winner is neither the Pacers nor the Thunder, but the Lakers. Thunder general manager Sam Presti is banking the future of his franchise on the possibility of George re-signing, should they succeed. However, the Thunder are heavily drowned by their current cap situation, without much room to better their team in a tough Western conference.
With that being said, a quick playoff exit could translate well towards the Lakers. George and his camp still prefer the situation with the Lakers, with a quick exit in the playoffs only furthering the statement. At the end of the day, George understands that he can’t elevate the Lakers by himself, as rumors continue to state that George is pitching the Lakers to other stars in the NBA.
The real winner in this trade is also the tandem of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, as they refused to send a favorable package to the Pacers when they understood they have the leverage. They could have easily sent valuable assets and young players in the trade, but now have a chance to watch their young talent develop another season before the highly anticipated 2018 free agency period that they have been insistent on.
Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand)
I don’t know if it was the best-case scenario, but it is definitely better than him being traded to Cleveland or Boston if they also signed Gordon Hayward.
With how stacked the Western Conference is, I don’t see the Thunder being better than the fourth or fifth seed, which warrants a second-round playoff exit.
If that happens, then I see George, and maybe even Russell Westbrook, coming to the Lakers next year in free agency.
The Lakers set themselves up to be able to sign two max players next summer, and this trade of George to a non-contender should help them be able to do that.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH)
Well, I think the best case for the Lakers would have been them landing Paul George now without sacrificing Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball. But as far as a trade to anywhere other than Los Angeles, this is about as good as the Lakers could have hoped for.
The Thunder with George and Westbrook will undoubtedly be a playoff team, but they still look far away from championship contention in my opinion. If Westbrook and Kevin Durant couldn’t get a ring together, it’s hard to picture Westbrook and George doing so, at least without the Thunder making other moves. The Thunder doesn’t have much cap room or tradable assets to improve their team, and the West is tougher than ever.
Golden State, San Antonio, and Houston are all still ahead of Oklahoma City while teams like Minnesota, Utah, and possibly Denver will be right there as well.
For the Lakers, their best course is to keep building their team. If Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and the rest of the young Lakers keep developing, it will be that much more attractive for George and another free agent to come on board in 2018.