We’re a month into the NBA season and it still seems like a safe bet that Paul George will jump to the Lakers next summer. George’s first few weeks as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder after this past summer’s huge NBA trade haven’t been disastrous by any means, but there’s also little proof so far that the George-Westbrook-Carmelo trio has the ability to pose a legit threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.
The Thunder are just 7-8 so far this season, not that much better than the young Lakers at 7-10. Individually, George’s numbers surprisingly haven’t taken that much of a hit. He averaged around 23.4 points per game the past two NBA seasons in Indiana and is currently averaging 21.6 points per game with the Thunder.
But the goal in Oklahoma City this season is clear – challenge the Warriors. At the current rate, it seems like they’re destined for a second round playoff exit at best. Houston (13-4), Minnesota (10-6), San Antonio (10-6) and even Denver (9-7) look like better threats to the West throne at the moment.
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If George determines that it’s too difficult to play with two ball-dominant players in OKC and win, then he absolutely will look elsewhere this coming July. The Lakers are still the favorite to land the hometown boy because of George’s undying love for Southern California and the Lakers franchise – but make no mistake, they need to show George (and LeBron James) SOMETHING over the next few months.
When it comes to showcasing a strong foundation, the inconsistent play of Lonzo Ball is worrisome. Yes, Ball is a rookie and George and LeBron will take that into account when weighting their options – but they need to know that Ball can be the starting point guard for a championship-level team.
Tied-in NBA chatterbox Bill Simmons went so far as to mention the 76ers and even the Knicks as better landing spots for LeBron next summer – citing that the Sixers have two future MVP candidates ready to roll in the postseason in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and that the Knicks have Kristaps Porzingis already in place.
The Lakers, of course, only really have Ball and Brandon Ingram as potential future game-changers – and the jury is still out on both of them. Ingram has shown marked improvement from his rookie season as his points per game average has jumped from 9.4 to 14.8 points per game. But when you stack up Ball and Ingram with Simmons and Boston’s young duo of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum (both of whom the Lakers could have right now) – they just don’t have the same clout. When it comes to strong foundations, there are several teams in the NBA that shine brighter than LA.
Maybe everything will work out for the Lakers. Like in decades past, the lure of Los Angeles will win out.
But there’s also a chance that both George and LeBron wind up going to a place where they have the easiest path to a title. For George that would be staying in Oklahoma City and hoping that he and his fellow NBA All-Stars they work out the kinks. For LeBron that would be going to San Antonio, Houston or Philadelphia.
One thing is for sure, everything that happens on the floor from now until the end of the 2017-18 will have a dramatic effect on where the studs of the 2018 NBA free agency class wind up.