J Pat Carter / Getty Images Sport / Getty
Russell Westbrook knows team success will be the most persuasive free-agent sales pitch the Oklahoma City Thunder can make to Paul George this coming summer. But, while Westbrook suggested a Thunder championship would convince George to stick around, George said simply showing meaningful growth as a team could be enough.
“I’ve got a lot to think about,” George told ESPN before the Thunder decimated the Los Angeles Lakers – widely rumored to be his top choice in free agency – on Wednesday night. “This summer will be huge. I’ve got a lot to think about. If we’re trending, if we’re going in the right direction, if I feel there is something that we’re building, and there’s a foundation, it would be kind of clueless, just stupid on my behalf to up and leave.
“I’m very conscious that we’re only together for a year so far, and we continue to go in an upward trend. It’s best to stick with what we have and work on building. So, I wouldn’t say it’s championship or bust, or championship and I’m out. It’s all about building. If I like where we’re building or the level that we’re going at, it would be stupid to walk away from that.”
It’s way too early to make a determination one way or another, but after a rough start to the Westbrook-George-Carmelo Anthony era, the Thunder have righted the ship and appear to be trending in the right direction. They’ve won 13 of their past 18 games, have the third-best point differential in the Western Conference, and are 4-2 against the top five teams in the NBA. (The Lakers, meanwhile, have lost eight straight and now have the league’s second-worst record.)
George feels the Thunder’s biggest issue at the start of the year was that Westbrook was being too deferential to his new star teammates.
“The biggest change was myself, Melo, telling Russ he has to be who he is,” George said. “All of us were kind of afraid to step on toes, deferring. I felt at times Russ was looking to get others involved when sometimes he has shots that he has to take, and it was throwing everybody out of rhythm. Now he knows that we got his back. We trust him, he trusts us. We got a rhythm. We’ve all been shooting the ball well lately. We’re in a group, we’re relaxed, we’re comfortable out there.”
Their progress won’t necessarily continue along a linear track, and none of it will matter if they can’t make meaningful noise in the postseason. But, if George is to be believed, the Thunder have a path to keeping him that doesn’t necessarily involve beating the Golden State Warriors.