Paul George is coming to Los Angeles! It's true.
George, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Oklahoma City Thunder are in LA for a Wednesday night shootout with the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
It's no secret. The Lakers want George to join.
"The conduct at issue involved communications by Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka with the agent representing Paul George that constituted a prohibited expression of interest in the player while he was under contract," the NBA's statement over the summer read, as it levied a $500,000 fine on the Lakers for tampering.
The fine was "the largest of its kind" according to the Washington Post and came after Lakers president of basketball operations Earvin "Magic" Johnson went on Jimmy Kimmel Live and winked in a joke that made it evident that he wanted George on the Lakers.
The player informed the Indiana Pacers that he would not re-sign with the team and shared his desire to be traded to the Lakers. The Pacers, instead, traded George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis and asked the league to investigate the Lakers' conduct.
LA's new front office got publicly shamed in a press release, along with the historic fine, while Oladipo looks like the favorite for the NBA's Most Improved Player award and the 21-year-old Sabonis is averaging 11.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 24.1 productive minutes per game.
Maybe the Pacers didn't get fleeced, after all.
Meanwhile, George is playing for a quickly constructed super team that is now up to fifth place in the Western Conference. If George and the Thunder make a deep playoff run, Westbrook and Oklahoma City may be able to keep the California State University at Fresno product.
Back to the point with regards to Wednesday's game, the Lakers' interest in George is documented. The player appears to be open about sharing his interest in the Lakers, too. Asked about whether he regrets that his request to go to the Lakers became public, George said he had "no regrets" about being linked with the purple and gold.
"I just stated somewhere I wanted to go play," George said in a practice video that surfaced on the eve of Wednesday's game at Staples Center. "You ask 80, 70 percent of the guys in the league if they would love to go back home and play for their city, play for their home, that's all I stated. I would love to go back home and play for my city, so no regrets at all."
Diplotmatically, George added, "I thought this trade that went down was a win-win for both sides."
Pretty candid stuff from Paul George about L.A. with Lakers and Clippers coming up. Says he has no regrets about Lakers popping up as trade destination when he was with Pacers: pic.twitter.com/1j2bqmRc8m
— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) January 2, 2018
George, who turns 28 in May, is entering the prime of his basketball career. If the Lakers land the Palmdale native over the summer, the Lakers would quickly jump into contention for a playoff spot, at the least. Of course, the hope would be that George's willingness to come to LA will attract another top level free agent to reconstruct the Lakers into a mix of established stars and elite young talents. Whether that vision can blossom into a championship contender remains to be seen.
Certainly, adding LeBron James wouldn't hurt the Lakers turn into contenders overnight.
Paul George made it clear playing back home means a bit more because of family & friends, offered HIGH praise for Lonzo Ball & said Lakers have history over Clippers, so it's not the same thing.
"Lakers have the history...that's who we grew up watching."
— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) January 3, 2018
Paul George on Lonzo Ball: "As far as being a basketball player, at his age, he's one of the best basketball players that has played this game. He has a knack to play the game the right way."
— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) January 3, 2018
Lonzo Ball and Brook Lopez have both been medically cleared to practice, and both are listed as "Questionable" for Wednesday's game. In terms of the team's style of play, Ball's absence hurt more than Lopez's time off, but the big man's return can only help a team that's suddenly struggling on the defensive end after a strong start to the season on that side of the court.
Due partly to Lopez's injury, Walton committed to small ball a couple games ago by starting Julius Randle at center. Randle has played well offensively and on the glass, but the Lakers have struggled to stop opponents from scoring. Likely, Walton will go back to starting Lopez at center and Ball at point guard if both are healthy, but will the coach stick with rookie Kyle Kuzma in the starting lineup or revert to Larry Nance Jr. with the starting unit?
Overnight, the Lakers seemingly have too many healthy bodies, which are the types of problems any coach would welcome. Of course, either or both of Ball and Lopez could end up sitting out Wednesday's game because the team technically does not practice until Thursday. Still, the fact remains that both are on the verge of returning to the rotation, and both could be back starting as early as Wednesday.
Considering the Lakers have lost 10 of their last 11 games and seven straight, having Ball and Lopez back can't hurt the team's play. If nothing else, Ball's return should create a buzz at Staples Center. George only plays on the Lakers' court twice before the summer, and Wednesday night's significance on the forward's move to Southern California in the summer of 2018 may be impossible to prove, but that won't stop every eyeball from fixating on no. 13's every move.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time. Tip-off is 7:40 p.m. Pacific Time.