Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George has informed franchise officials that he will not be opting in for the final year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent, league sources told ESPN.
After trying to decipher comments George has made during the team’s yearlong recruitment, OKC is days away from knowing whether the full-court press was worth it.
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George has an 11:59 p.m. ET Friday deadline to formally decline to opt in.
George, who will decline a $20.7 million salary for the 2018-19 season, remains seriously interested in returning to the Thunder in free agency, league sources said. The Los Angeles Lakers will receive serious consideration too, sources said.
Several teams, including Philadelphia and Houston, are interested in pursuing George too, league sources said.
Indiana traded George to the Thunder a year ago, where the five-time All-Star forward came to build a strong relationship with All-Star guard Russell Westbrook and averaged 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
Before his trade, George had told the Pacers that he planned to sign with the Lakers in free agency this summer. Nevertheless, Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti, coach Billy Donovan and Westbrook have made a strong case on a future with the Thunder and moved the franchise into contention with the Lakers.
George, a native of Southern California, and LeBron James are the focus of the Lakers’ free-agent recruiting efforts. The Lakers also are working to acquire San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard in a trade.
George is eligible to sign a five-year, $176 million contract extension this summer with the Thunder. That may be a less likely scenario than a shorter contract that could allow him more control over his future.
George could do a “one-plus-one” contract and return to free agency next summer. George will reach 10 years of service in 2020, making him eligible to sign a four-year, $169 million maximum contract with a team with cap space.