While there has been plenty of attention on LeBron James and a looming player option deadline, Paul George faced a similar decision with regard to his own contract for the 2018-19 season. On Thursday morning, however, word broke from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that George “has informed franchise officials” from the Thunder that he will decline a player option that would have paid him $20.7 million for next season.
There is little surprise in this move from George, particularly in that his $20.7 million salary would be far less than he could command on the open market. The possibility of an opt-in-and-trade scenario loomed, much in the way that Chris Paul executed one last year to land in Houston, but George can still re-sign with the Thunder if he chooses to do so, with a maximum contract of up to five years and more than $170 million.
The report also notes that George “remains seriously interested in returning to the Thunder in free agency,” with the Lakers, Rockets, and 76ers also listed as potential destinations. The Lakers have been the team most frequently tied to George over the last year-plus and, recently, a portion of their free agent pitch to George reportedly leaked. Still, there is a growing notion that George is more than comfortable sticking around Oklahoma City in tandem with Russell Westbrook and the prevailing sentiment that a partnership between the All-Star forward and the Lakers isn’t as overwhelmingly likely as it once was.
There are options that are now off the table for George, particularly in the form of a trade that could have landed him elsewhere before July 1 with an opt-in for the final season of his contract. That was always a long shot, though, and George now officially hits the market when the free agency period begins.