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Paul George was long-rumored to be heading home to Los Angeles to play with the Lakers.
However, the former Indiana Pacers star surprised most across the NBA landscape by re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who acquired him from the Pacers in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis last summer.
“I’m a family man now,” George said of his decision, according to Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated. “I don’t need no distractions, I don’t need no big cities, no big lights, at this point in my career.
“For as beautiful as Oklahoma is, it doesn’t have big lights and none of that. But that’s fine. … I’m a low-maintenance, low-key, chill guy. I’m not out in the streets, I’m not out in the club, at parties, I’m not really at movie premieres. After games, after practice, I’m home, I’m with my kids, I’m with my girl, and I’m chilling.”
George, speaking from USA Basketball’s minicamp in Las Vegas on Thursday, said his feelings about wanting to return to LA to play for the Lakers were genuine.
“When I told the Pacers I wanted to play [in LA], that was true feelings,” George, a native Californian, said. “I wanted to come back home. To play for home, to put that jersey on for family and for what I grew up watching. I wanted to carry that legacy.
“But I went to Oklahoma, fell in love with it and I’m happy with the decision.”
The fact the Thunder ponied up for a four-year, $137 million contract certainly didn’t hurt. But the five-time All-Star signed the deal hours before the NBA’s free-agency period even tipped off at midnight July 1, then celebrated doing so at a lakeside bash in Oklahoma.
George said the trust of fellow superstar Russell Westbrook and Thunder general manger Sam Presti and others in the organization trumped the tug of playing for the hometown Lakers.
“My feelings for the Lakers are the same. I love the organization, I love the history, I love the legacy,” he told Golliver. “But being around Sam, being around Russ, being around [coach] Billy [Donovan], [Andre Roberson], Steven [Adams], I gained a brotherhood. [Giving that group only] one year just didn’t sit well with me. I went to war, I went to battle, we made the playoffs, we were in the hunt, and we stuck together all year long.
“You never heard of any turmoil, no matter how we played, in the locker room. We built a real brotherhood there and I didn’t want to walk away from that.”
George said he understands the Thunder and Carmelo Anthony parting ways. OKC has added point guard Dennis Schroder from the Hawks and signed free-agent big man Nerlens Noel.
“As much as I loved playing with ‘Melo and having ‘Melo alongside us, I get the decision on both sides,” he said. “I understand the decision on both sides. It just didn’t work. It didn’t work.”
While Golden State, winners of back-to-back NBA titles and three of the last four, still looms over the rugged Western Conference like a monstrous guillitone, George realizes the enormity of the challenge.
“It’s always been a battle to play the Warriors,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. That’s not going to change. We’ve just got to prepare for it and, when the time comes, be ready for it. They’re a team that’s poised with a championship pedigree. They know what it takes. They’ve been together for years.
“Our work is cut out for us. That’s obvious.”