LOS ANGELES – Paul George made the right decision when he snubbed the Los Angeles Lakers without so much as a flirtatious glance last summer, and Wednesday night proved exactly why.
Towards the end of an evening where he had been booed during warm-ups, introductions and virtually every time he touched the ball, George was finally greeted at the free throw line with a chant that somehow managed to be absurd, accurate and comical, all at the same time.
“We Don’t Need You,” yelled the Staples Center audience, as George moved closer to his 37-point haul in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 107-100 victory over a Lakers team again sorely missing LeBron James.
In one sense, of course the Lakers do need George, the Palmdale, Calif. native who initially seemed destined to return to his childhood roots through free agency before committing himself to the Thunder long-term and refusing to listen to other suitors.
The Lakers are not going to get him, but they need him – or someone like him – when James returns from a troublesome groin injury if they are going to get into any kind of favorable playoff position this season. And they certainly could use someone like him during this stretch where James is sidelined, for purposes of poise and leadership and just for an injection of real quality.
Yet on the other hand, they don’t need him at all. It has been so long since the Lakers had a team of any relevance, long enough that some key foundations have been lost and forgotten.
This is a city that has learned to crave celebrity more than success, so much so that many here would be bewildered to discover that those things aren’t actually one and the same. With the most famous and perhaps the best player in the world heading the roster, what else do you need? The Lakers organization wants to win, yet it feels like its fans are content just to be talked about again.
Credit George with figuring out ahead of time and before James even announced his latest “decision” what is playing out now across the upper players echelons of the NBA. Kevin Durant said it, but the actions and indications of others are proving it: the oppressive glare of being in James’ sphere and surrounded by his fawning media celebrants isn’t your average superstar’s idea of fun.
No matter how he plays James rarely receives blame, not at this stage of his career. When he wins, it is his triumph, for him, by him, because of him. If it is a really big success, it anoints him as the greatest player ever (his words). And when he doesn’t win, well, it must be someone else who is the culprit.
Had it been George who was brought in to steer James towards a title, who do you think would have been the primary scapegoat had that outcome not materialized?
So instead, George decided to stay away, in a small city with a loyal (and far less delusional) fan base. In return for being made to feel at home, he has rewarded the Thunder with a spectacular season worthy of MVP consideration.
Yet the L.A. fans boo, and by doing so, surely erased any tiny glimmer of wonder in George’s mind about whether he made the correct choice.
On the night, it certainly didn’t bother him.
“I am the bad guy and that’s fine,” George said. “It was no shock, no surprise. I was prepared for it. It is what it is. I am not the only guy from SoCal, from the L.A. area, that didn’t decide to play here. It was fun.”
George has been and will be booed again when he returns to Indianapolis to face the Pacers, whose fans, in truth, have gripes far weightier in legitimacy than those of the Lakers supporters.
“I look forward to the second time of the season where I will be booed and that is in the Midwest,” George added. “I enjoyed it. Regardless, the booing wasn’t going to throw me off my game. I have been playing basketball for a really long time. A little booing and a little noise is not going to make me forget how to play basketball. Here I knew coming into the situation what it was going to be like.”
George has been averaging a career-high 26.7 points per game on the season so his 37 on Wednesday wasn’t an unprecedented explosion, but there was a look in his eye, particularly when things got tight late in the fourth quarter, that signaled the booing had added motivation.
He left L.A. with a smile and some swagger, for the Thunder are rolling nicely, as George leads the way even with Russell Westbrook shooting miserably. OKC are a healthy third in the Western Conference, well ahead of the falling Lakers, and George has no cause for regret at the actions of the summer. He knew already that he’s in the right spot. The fickle Lakers fans merely reinforced the point.
You can follow Martin Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno.
Source: “Los Angeles” – Google News