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When Paul George informed the Indiana Pacers this past summer that he intended to sign elsewhere as a free agent in 2018, he specifically listed the Los Angeles Lakers as a preferred destination, and the four-time All-Star wing’s interest in playing for his hometown team was established well before that.
The Lakers reciprocated, so much so that the organization was hit with a $500,000 fine in August for what the NBA termed “communications by Lakers GM Rob Pelinka with the agent representing Paul George that constituted a prohibited expression of interest in the player while he was under contract.”
So, when George arrived in Los Angeles for a two-game set against the Lakers and Clippers, he was peppered with questions about both his stated interest in playing for the Lakers and their tampering.
“I have no regrets at all,” George said of informing the Pacers of his Lakers interest, “All that was said was a destination I would have loved to go to. There wasn’t a gun pointed to the head: ‘Send me here.’ I just stated somewhere I wanted to go play. You ask 70-80 percent of the guys in the league if they would love to go back home and play for their city. That’s all I stated. I would love to go back home and play for my city.”
George called the late-June trade that sent him from the Pacers to the Oklahoma City Thunder “a win-win for both sides,” and Indiana wouldn’t disagree, since Victor Oladipo is playing at an All-Star level. But George’s candor about his L.A. dreams has to raise concerns in OKC about his commitment to the Thunder, even if he has said he’d be “dumb to leave” if they reached the Western Conference finals.
The Thunder have done some course-correcting after starting the season slowly, and Russell Westbrook, as you might have guessed, remains confident that they can still meet George’s demands:
“The sales pitch is when we win a championship. Beat that pitch.”
As for the tampering charge, George downplayed what was one of the largest fines in NBA history, suggesting to reporters that the penalty was handed down as a result of his relationship with fishing buddy Brian Shaw, the former assistant coach for the Pacers who now holds the same position in L.A.
Except, the league made no mention of Shaw in its official release about the fine. In fact …
So, maybe George and the Lakers haven’t been in close communication, since he doesn’t even know why his hometown team was fined a half-million dollars for recruiting him. George and his agent should get their stories straight, because the questions will only mount as free agency draws closer.
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