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Rumor: Paul George is “gone” in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City Thunder v Cleveland Cavaliers

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 20: Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder warms up prior to the start of the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on January 20, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

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Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George recently said it’s too soon for him to think about his pending free agency. We knew that was just talk, especially given the amount of time and server space that’s been dedicated to writing about rumors George is destined to choose somewhere more to his liking, probably the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now, with the Thunder season over thanks to the Utah Jazz, we can talk openly once again about where George might be headed. And as we’ve heard before, there are rumblings that George is soon to make his exit from Oklahoma City.

Speaking on his radio show this week, ESPN’s Ryen Russillo said that his source close to the team believes George leaving the Thunder is all but a done deal.

Via ESPN (transcribed by Slam):

Russillo: “Today is the first time I’ve heard from anybody that I trust that George is gone.”

To L.A.?

Russillo: “I don’t know where. It’s a ‘He’s gone’ deal.”

I heard (ESPN reporter) Royce Young say George thinks he’s leaning toward staying. George made it seem in the press conference after Game 6 that he genuinely was torn and maybe even wanted to stay…

Russillo: “I’m skeptical of sharing it […] because all of us watching (the press conference) were like, ‘Why would you even come back to this thing?’

“And I was like, Where is he going then? And (the source) was like, ‘All we know is that he’s gone.’ […]

“I know what Royce Young said, and I saw that coverage of it. Royce is fantastic and he would know better than I because he’s there.

“But Paul George also is somebody who knows what to say. But I wouldn’t trust anything he says.”

George going to the Lakers is the favorite hypothetical scenario, especially when you look at the other teams with enough cap space to sign him to a deal outright. It’s basically the Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Indiana Pacers. The Sixers are the most intriguing out of that group, obviously, but the rumor there is more about LeBron James.

So if George picks the Lakers, where does that leave the Thunder? It’s not a great position to be in considering the teams preparing for the Golden State Warriors’ window to close. That includes the Houston Rockets and younger teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves. OKC is sort of caught in the middle and they’re probably about to lose their second-best player.

The joke is that Sam Presti drafted three MVPs and managed to keep the worst one. That skips over the context of losing Kevin Durant, although trading James Harden in order to keep Serge Ibaka will not be a career highlight for the Thunder GM. More importantly, the roster construction for Oklahoma City is patchwork outside of Westbrook, Steven Adams, and Andre Roberson.

Hell, if Carmelo Anthony really does opt-in to the final year of his contract and continue to be a stickler about being a starter, the Thunder might take a bigger dip than we expect next year without George. Watching Westbrook go nuclear on people could be hard to indulgently watch if the team around him gets worse.

So while the grabbing headline here appears to be George, the continued degradation of the Thunder roster following a high water mark in 2012 and a quick tumble following Durant’s departure might be the real story long-term.

We’ll have to wait to see what George does, but no doubt it won’t be in the best interest of Thunder fans.