How Paul George Changed the Game

How did he do it?

George re-signing with the Thunder gives teams hope when trading for players with expiring contracts

When the Thunder traded Victor Oladipo and Domantis Sabonis for Paul George, the overriding question was why? Why trade for a player who is going to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers at 12:01 am when free agency starts?

Even with the great reputation the Thunder’s front office has, many thought they were grasping straws. In what was one of the worst kept secrets, it was known that George wanted to go back home. It reeked of desperation but who could blame them? This was an organization one game short of eliminating the mighty Golden State Warriors. If losing a 3-1 wasn’t bad enough, the Thunder lost Kevin Durant to the 73-win Golden State Warriors.

The Thunder front office kept telling anyone who would listen that they thought they could retain the services of George. Everyone laughed. Everyone except for Sam Presti. By the end of the season, whispers started saying there’s a chance the Thunder would re-sign George. By the 12:01 am, it was the Oklahoma City who had the last laugh signing George to a $137M extension.

Fast forward to this offseason and now it makes sense that the Raptors traded for Kawhi Leonard. Toronto General Manager, Masi Ujiri thinks there’s a good chance he can sell Leonard on Toronto. “I think there’s a lot to sell here: our team, our culture, our city, our ownership. We have everything here except a championship, in my humble opinion,” said Ujiri.

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Not having a championship is huge for a guy who has rings but the Raptors have a season to convince him to stay. In the “Lebron-less” Eastern Conference, Toronto has a chance to go deep despite Boston being a heavy favorite. If Leonard enjoys his teammates and they make a solid run, it might be enough to re-sign. What we do now is Leonard won’t necessarily make his decision based on who can pay him the most.

It looks like the Raptors main opponent for Leonard’s services are the Los Angeles Clippers. If you believe what is being reported, Leonard doesn’t want to play with LeBron James so that takes the Lakers out of play. If George could spurn going home to LA, there’s a chance Leonard would do the same.

In Minnesota, they’re facing same challenge Indiana had with George. They have a star they don’t think they can re-sign. Conventional wisdom would be, the Timberwolves will need to take what they can get because of Jimmy Butler has an expiring contract. But with teams willing to take the chance they can re-sign the star, the asking price is high. Not only are the Timberwolves looking for young talent and/or draft picks. They also want the team trading for Butler to assume Gorgui Dieng’s awful contract. The underachieving Dieng still has three years and $48M left on his deal.

In the past, this would be an unthinkable request but with teams believing the would be able re-sign Butler, the Timberwolves feel like they can get someone to take the contract. Time will tell.

The way expiring contracts are viewed has all changed thanks to George re-signing with Oklahoma City. It’s what makes the NBA offseason great. When you think you have it figured out, you realize you don’t have it figured out.

Top players are always in play because we’ve seen them spurn big markets and turn down the most money. It’s about where they feel comfortable and that gives a lot of teams in the league a chance to get a franchise changing player and we can thank Paul George for that.

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