Free Agency

What are Paul George's best options in free agency?

paul-george-061218-ftr-getty.jpg
Paul George (Getty Images)

LeBron James isn't the only player every team in the league will be trying to sign if he becomes a free agent. A perennial All-Star himself, Paul George has until Friday to let the Thunder know if he'll exercise his player option worth $20.7 million to stay in Oklahoma City next season.

There's a possibility George stays in Oklahoma City even if he declines his player option - doing so would allow him to sign a longer and more lucrative contract with the franchise - but it would also open the door for him to sign with another team in free agency.

From the Pacers to the Lakers, let's take a look at George's best options this offseason...

Indiana Pacers

Remember when LeBron left the Cavaliers to join the Heat in 2010 and then returned to Cleveland four years later when they had a more complete roster? George could do the same now that the Pacers are in a better situation than when he left.

The team hasn't changed much since George was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City before the 2017-18 season, but the addition of Victor Oladipo alone has taken them to a new level. Even though they lost to the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs for the second season in a row, they won six more games during the regular season and were a historic James performance away from making it to the second round.

Run it back with Oladipo and George, and the Pacers could make some real noise in the Eastern Conference.

Keep up to date with all of the latest :tag: news!
Sure Not Now

That depends on whether George wants to return to Indiana, of course. After his first game against the Pacers as a member of the Thunder, George talked about how "both sides moved on." With it being less than a year since he demanded a trade from the team that drafted him, maybe it's too soon for George to think about a potential reunion. Or maybe the situation is too good to pass up.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers wouldn't sign George to be the face of their franchise. They already have an All-Star in Joel Embiid and a future All-Star in Ben Simmons, both of whom are under the age of 25. Instead, they'd sign George with the belief that he can take them from playoff contention to title contention.

Based on what we saw from the 76ers this season, there's reason to believe George could. The combination of Embiid and Simmons was enough for the 76ers to win 52 games during the regular season, and they were the hottest team in the NBA before the Celtics figured out the formula to beat them in the second round of the playoffs.

Simmons in particular struggled against Boston. Whereas he was able to bulldoze his way to the basket against most teams - setting opportunities up for himself to score at the basket or kick it out to one of Philadelphia's many shooters - the Celtics defended him with bigger players and dared him to beat them from outside.

With George on the roster, the 76ers wouldn't be as reliant on Simmons' playmaking. He's more than capable of running his own pick-and-roll, and he's a decent playmaker for others. He's be able to space the floor at a high rate for Simmons and Embiid to attack as well, having made 3.1 3-pointers per game at a 40.1 percent clip this season.

Then there's George's defense. The 76ers had the third-best defense in the NBA this season built around Simmons, Embiid and Robert Covington. Throw a one-time member of the All-Defensive First Team into the mix, and they'd have the makings of the most dominant defense in the league.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets seem intent on adding a third All-Star to their core this offseason. James has been linked to them, and so has George.

George's fit next Chris Paul and James Harden would be more natural than LeBron's because he's more comfortable playing without the ball in his hands. A third of his shot attempts were catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season, and he converted 41.1 percent of those opportunities. Only Klay Thompson and Robert Covington made more catch-and-shoot 3-pointers than George on the season, and only Harden made more total 3-pointers.

With 3-point shooting being a necessity in Mike D'Antoni's system, it would make for an easy transition for George.

George's All-NBA level defense also gives him the tools to act as a souped-up Trevor Ariza in Houston's starting lineup. With his long range shooting, secondary playmaking and lockdown defense, George would give the Rockets the two-way play they need to take down the Warriors.

Los Angeles Lakers

This one is simple: California is home for George, and he had the Lakers in mind when he first requested a trade from the Pacers.

It helps that the Lakers have the cap space to sign him and another All-Star this offseason, James being the player who has been most often linked to Los Angeles with George. It's impossible to say what they would look like next season if George and LeBron were to join forces - Luol Deng is the lone player on their roster making eight figures, and Magic Johnson could flip some of the team's younger players to compete while George and LeBron are still in their primes - but only the Lakers can offer George the total package of playing for his hometown on a max contract alongside another superstar talent.

If George ultimately wants to play in Los Angeles, the Lakers can easily make it happen.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Similar to James, George knows what he's getting into if he chooses to stay in Oklahoma City. Carmelo Anthony will pick up his $27.9 million player option for 2018-19, leaving the Thunder locked into their core of Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Steven Adams and Anthony for at least one more season.

That team won 48 games this season, which was a disappointment considering the Thunder won 47 games without George and Anthony in 2016-17.

Even so, the trio of Westbrook, George and Adams alone gives the Thunder the star power to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. If Roberson can make a full recovery from his knee injury, perhaps Oklahoma City goes back to being a top-five defensive team, not the average one they were in the second half of the season. They can only hope for a bounce-back season from Anthony as well after he averaged a career-low 16.2 points per game on 40.4 percent shooting from the field.

Fueled by another season of George and Westbrook firing on all cylinders, the combination might be enough for the Thunder to be the playoff spoiler they were supposed to be this season. The Thunder can also offer George more guaranteed money than any other team in the league. Playing for a contender with $200 million in his pocket certainly isn't a bad outcome for George in free agency.

Wild cards

The Jazz, because of basketball reasons: The Jazz have a star on the rise in Donovan Mitchell, a Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy Gobert and a number of valuable role players who are under contract for the foreseeable future in Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder. With George on board, they might be able to make the leap into title contention.

Recruitment has already begun in Utah, too:

The Cavaliers, because of LeBron: The Cavaliers probably aren't an option for George if LeBron leaves, but there's been interest from Cleveland's side in the past because of how well they would complement each other.

FREE AGENCY FITS: LeBron James | DeMarcus Cousins | Isaiah Thomas

More from NBA.com

#Jimmy Butler
Butler: 'It’s so much more fun to play with these guys'
Carlan Gay
#Saturday
Around the NBA: Kyrie leads Celtics, Sixers perfection, AD's blitz
James McKern
young-curry-111218-ftr-nba-getty
How Trae Young compares to a young Stephen Curry
Kyle Irving
#Gordon Hayward
Why the Celtics shouldn't bring Hayward off the bench
Kyle Irving
#Kyrie
Kyrie was 'pretty peaceful' during 43-point performance against Raptors
Carlan Gay
kyle-lowry-111618-ftr-getty.jpg
Lowry critical of himself after Celtics loss
Scott Rafferty
More News