Miller: Paul George faces Lakers, who value him so much they have already paid a price
Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersRelated Articles LOS ANGELES — He called the accusations “kind of crazy” and “kind of comical,” and that was before he intimated that the Lakers were penalized $500,000 for talking about fishing.Fishing? Wasn’t this actually poaching?“It is what it is,” Paul George explained Wednesday, when he really meant it was what it wasn’t.The small forward with the big appeal, visiting Staples Center with the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder, returned home for the first time since the Lakers were fined for tampering with him – something George said never occurred. Paul George ‘wanted to go home’ to play for Lakers; his hometown hopes he still does Anyway, whatever happened last summer doesn’t matter now, not compared to what will happen next summer, when, based on overall sentiment, everyone plus a few people expect George to sign as a free agent with the Lakers.He grew up about 70 miles from downtown L.A., in Palmdale, as a Lakers fan, and has done an absolutely horrible job hiding his lingering affinity for the team and the city.When introduced before the game Wednesday, George was cheered almost as much as any of the players already with the Lakers.One fan sitting courtside showed up wearing a Lakers jersey bearing George’s name and number, even though “13” already has been retired by the team.If the signing does happen, that $500,000 already spent becomes less of a fine and more of a down payment, a wise investment stemming from an initial decision that didn’t appear to be wise in the least bit.LeBron James also will be a free-agent target this summer, Lakers fans hoping Pelinka and team president Magic Johnson are more precise with their aim than Lonzo Ball has been so far.It is especially fun to speculate on what the Lakers could become because talking about what they are – and have been for awhile now – is fun only to people who enjoy things like spasming stomach distress.Young and inexperienced and maddeningly unable to conceal either, the Lakers continue to flail away with performances completely lacking in any version of consistency.Forget for now trying to find their way as a team. These guys remain rightly consumed with trying to find their way as individuals.Wednesday arrived with fans here longing for a return to the glory days of this franchise, you know, back when the Lakers were winning summer league championships.They entered this matchup with the Thunder having lost seven in a row and 10 of 11, an extended stumble that dropped them to the bottom of the Western Conference with the unmistakable thud of a cadaver.This is still a proud franchise with 16 NBA championships and 11 retired numbers and one player currently unable to leave the state because he has to instead remain in jail.But, hey, things could be worse. LaVar Ball still could be mocking Luke Walton after every defeat.The Los Angeles Times couldn’t even wait until the start of 2018 to hold off on a headline announcing “This Lakers season can’t end soon enough …” And don’t you just hate when the media doesn’t have patience with a local team?Personally, I’m willing to give the Lakers until this summer, until they secure George and James, before demanding they travel backward in time and make this a 60-win season.But maybe we should temper the anticipation just a bit. Remember, uniting Steve Nash and Dwight Howard with Kobe Bryant was once considered the answer around here, too, and the Lakers are still recovering from that disaster.The difference today is this group is much younger, a reality holding back the Lakers now but one that has to improve with, well, with age.It rarely happens free of pain, watching a young team grow. But even the worst pain in life can’t last forever.The Lakers are banking on a couple trophy catches easing the suffering, and one of those catches was in town Wednesday.After several summers of free-agent failure, they’re bound to land a big one eventually, this big one in Oklahoma City today, though George still hasn’t officially gotten away. Tampering is considered a no-no in the NBA, the league preferring that teams refrain from negotiating with players who are already under contract with other teams. Seems fair enough.Reports in August indicated that the penalty was the result of an improper discussion between Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and George’s agent, Aaron Mintz.But George said his former employers, the Pacers, were upset about conversations he had with Brian Shaw, a Lakers assistant coach and someone he worked with while both were in Indiana.George, who called Shaw a “mentor,” suggested the two talked only about “fishing and challenging each other on fishing trips.”I don’t know. I’d think a mentor and his pupil would discuss topics with a little more depth than that, but who knows, some people are really into fishing, I guess.