OKLAHOMA CITY — After being officially introduced Wednesday in front of a crowd at an event titled the “Paul George Welcome Party,” the Thunder’s new star said he was stunned when he found out he was headed to Oklahoma City just hours before the start of free agency on July 1.
“It was surprising. This team wasn’t one of the teams that we had in mind,” George said. “I thought I was going to four or five other teams that were pretty active in trade [talks]. When I found out it was OKC, I was quite surprised but at the same time I was happy about the trade. I was thrilled, I was looking forward to it. All I wanted was a chance and an opportunity to play for something special and ultimately to try and win a championship and right off the bat I think I can do that here playing alongside Russ.”
George’s OKC arrival marks start of yearlong recruiting effort
The Thunder’s trade for Paul George marked a seismic shift for the NBA, but it was only the start of the work for the Oklahoma City front office.
The Indiana Pacers traded George to the Thunder hours before free agency opened in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. George had informed the Pacers, through his agent, that he intended to sign elsewhere when he reached unrestricted free agency next summer, with his hometown Los Angeles Lakers being the presumptive favorite.
Despite the celebratory tone of the event, most of the questions lobbed at George centered around his unknown future, and the speculation attached to it.
“Right now, it’s taking it as it comes,” George said. “We have a fresh start, and a chance to do something special is really the first thing that comes to mind. I’m not looking past 2017-18, we haven’t accomplished nothing yet. When it comes to that, when I get there, we’ll address that, but right now me and (Russell Westbrook) have something to build now and we’ll see where it takes us. It could be something that’s special that we build and want to continue on building.”
The Thunder elected to make the deal for George regardless, confident in their belief they could sell him on a first-class organization and pairing together with the reigning MVP in Westbrook.
“The risk in this decision was not making it,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said.
A source close to George told ESPN.com the main criteria for any future decision is about winning, a message George hammered home Wednesday.
“At the end of the day, all I want out of this is a chance. A chance every year to compete,” he said. “That’s where it stemmed from of being linked wanting to go home. Like I’ve been saying, I could come here and love it, as I have been loving it here, so if that’s what at the end of the day, I know Russ and I are up at the same time, if we love where we’re at and we feel we can do something special here, I’m open to it. I’m open to it. But that’ll be something we address at the end of the season.”
George said he has a relationship with Westbrook dating back to a camp he attended as a rookie, and said he called his new superstar teammate the night the trade happened. George arrived in Oklahoma City on Tuesday and said he had an extended face-to-face conversation with Westbrook.
“It wasn’t even about basketball,” George said. “Just vibing together, getting to know each other. Just creating a friendship.”
George, 27, is a four-time All-Star and is coming off a career-best season, averaging 23.7 points on 46 percent shooting and 39 percent from 3, plus 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists.