Dear OKC, here's what to expect from PG
An open letter to the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise and fans:
Welcome to Paul George’s world.
Enjoy your stay, however brief.
Because, no matter how much he tries to suggest otherwise, no matter how hard you convince yourselves, your time in his world will indeed be brief.
Nearly 25 years ago, upon Larry Brown’s arrival as head coach in Indianapolis, Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times, who knew the man well, tried to do us a favor. He wrote a story entitled “The Five Stages of Larry Brown,” hoping to prepare us for what was coming. Those stages were: Arrival, Early Struggle in Which He Tries to Trade Everyone Starting With His Star Player, Triumph, Frustration and I’m Out of Here.
At the time, we read the story with bemusement. As respected as Heisler was -- and still is -- obviously he just didn’t understand that things were going to be different in Indianapolis because we were special. Well, not so much. The Brown tenure went exactly as Heisler said it would.
I will be the first to admit I am no Mark Heisler, but I will nevertheless endeavor to do for you what he tried to do for us. I will offer The Three Stages of Paul George’s 11 Months in OKC.
1. THE WARM AND FUZZY EMBRACE
In his mind, George is very good at saying all the right things, while letting others around him do the dirty work. He told Pacers fans on June 15 in his first interview since the playoffs ended, “This is my team, my group and this is where I’m at.” He called the constant buzz he wanted to leave to sign with the Lakers “crazy rumors” and insisted he would take his time before making any decisions about his future.
On June 17, his agent Aaron Mintz informed Pacers president Kevin Pritchard that George intended to opt out of his contract after the 2017-18 season and leave the Pacers with the intent of signing with the Lakers.
Keep that in mind, before you get too encouraged about those quotes in the Sports Illustrated article, or anything he might say in his introductory press conference this evening.
He will talk about the great organization, the great fans, how awesome it’s going to be to play with Russell Westbrook, and he will tell you he hasn’t made up his mind about the future.
He already has, in fact, said many of those things via Sports Illustrated. Interesting that he chose to speak through a national magazine before speaking to the Thunder fans. He was softening you up.
“I get the frustration. I get why people are upset,” he told SI. “But at the same time, I want the average fan to understand that we only get a small window to play this game and more than anything you want to be able to play for a championship. I wanted to bring that to Indiana. I really did. I love Indiana. That will always be a special place for me and I’m sorry for not holding on. But I wasn’t sure we’d ever get a team together to compete for a championship and that’s where all this came from.”
The Pacers reached the playoffs in every one of George’s six healthy seasons, and twice advanced to the conference finals. Does he really expect anyone to believe he saw no hope for the future because Roy Hibbert and George Hill were gone? Or that Larry Bird’s departure somehow signaled the franchise waving the white flag on competing?
You see, Paul George wants to be loved so badly, he is perfectly willing to suspend reality to try to make it happen.
2. THE BIG TEASE
There will be a month during the 2017-18 season in which George plays as well as anyone in the NBA. Maybe even two. During that period, the national media will erupt with stories about how the Thunder just might be championship contenders, he and Westbrook are perfect for one another, and this is the start of something big in OKC.
“I’m thrilled,” he told SI. “All I was asking for was a little help in Indy. Now I’m getting a lot of help in Oklahoma. … I think I fit with how (Westbrook) plays and vice versa. Being a knock-down shooter, I think I can spread the floor for him and run the floor with him. But I also think I can help get him easier opportunities, being able to drive and dish the ball out, so he can attack guys closing out on him.”
But there will also be a month, maybe two, where you will wonder what all the fuss was about. The national media will murmur rumors about a discordant relationship between the two stars, with frustration being voiced through carefully placed leaks. Publicly, George will profess his love for Westbrook, offer disdain for those negative reports and deny his connection with them.
Odds are, the good month(s) will be in the first half of the season, before the trade deadline. Odds are, the bad month(s) will be down the stretch, and Magic Johnson will start Tweeting smiley-face emojis and not-so-cryptic comments about divine intervention on the Lakers’ behalf.
Crazy rumors and all that.
3. THE AWKWARD EXIT
We get it. The Thunder has a first-class operation from top to bottom, Oklahoma City is a great place to live, and you have great fans.
We get it because the Pacers are a first-class operation from top to bottom, Indianapolis is a great place to live, and we have great fans.
And none of that matters so much as a molecule.
After the Thunder wins 53 (or so) games, finishes third or fourth in the West and loses in the second round of the playoffs, Paul George will sit next to Russell Westbrook on a podium and be asked about his future. He will not offer a direct answer.
This will mean only one thing: adios.
We read in Sports Illustrated that George’s actual hometown (Palmdale) is actually an hour from downtown L.A., and he likes to fish, which makes him a small-town guy at heart, right?
He lived on a reservoir in a beautiful Indianapolis suburb. Had a boat. Fished all the time.
“I grew up a Lakers and a Clippers fan,” he told SI. “I idolized Kobe. There will always be a tie here, a connection here. People saying I want to come here, who doesn’t want to play for their hometown? That’s a dream come true, if you’re a kid growing up on the outskirts of L.A., to be the man in your city. But it’s definitely been overstated.
“For me, it’s all about winning. I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning. I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
Reread the end of that last sentence. George let slip an inconvenient truth. Is that the mindset you want your new superstar to have, that the only way his new team can achieve the level of winning he demands is for “something crazy” to happen?
Look, I’m not trying to spoil your party, just trying to be sort of a designated driver to navigate these new worlds.
So watch the press conference tonight, listen to Paul George tell you what he thinks you want to hear, and then please, please remember this:
When Paul George speaks, his words are the banana, and you are the tailpipe.
You cannot keep him, you see, because he already is gone.
Photo of Paul George and Russell Westbrook by Getty Images