“I want to retire a Clipper,” a seemingly committed Paul George said in front of the assembled media the other week. His disclosure didn’t raise eyebrows. Quite the opposite, in fact; he had made similar pledges of loyalty during his time with the Pacers and Thunder, so the reaction to his latest vow was tepid at best. He had been there and done that, and even casual observers knew his actions to be far more revealing than his words. It likewise didn’t help that he played poorly in the immediate past playoffs, after which he went about pointing fingers at everybody but himself in defense of his underwhelming effort.
Well, guess what? Six days after George expressed his wish, he took the logical next step to fulfill it. He signed a contract extension that kicks in after the 2020-21 season and is slated to keep him with the Clippers until 2025. He didn’t need to do so; he could have instead waited things out to see if fellow max player Kawhi Leonard re-upped, thus getting a better handle on his prospects. That he didn’t speaks volumes of his mindset moving forward. And, now, he has cause to clap back at critics who hitherto pegged his talk to be cheap. His walk isn’t, he can argue with reason, and not simply because he’s getting a whopping $190 million through the four years he has tacked on to his existing deal.
There are just two problems, though. First, George is who he is. Merely lengthening the duration of his contract isn’t in and of itself a guarantee that he will stay. He did the same while with the Thunder two and a half years ago, only to wind up lasting a single season before bolting for the door. Second, the Clippers are who they are. Merely agreeing to lengthen the duration of his contract isn’t in and of itself a guarantee that they will keep him. They did the same for supposed cornerstone Blake Griffin three and a half years ago, only to wind up shipping him out six months later.
In short, all parties at the negotiating table were well aware that they engaged in a transaction; nothing more, nothing less. George and the Clippers may have thought — even believed — then that they were consummating a partnership for life, but they’re not stupid. Anything can happen in the National Basketball Association, and it would be foolhardy of them not to reassess their respective positions when, and every time, the need arises. Which is why the extension is as much for show as it is for dough.
The hope, of course, is that George will use his upgraded deal as motivation to step up and perform under pressure, and that the Clippers will see the value of their investment. And perhaps it may spur Leonard, their real target, to opt to stay for the long haul as well. If the best-laid plans go awry, however, all and sundry can easily pivot to another position and act accordingly. No judgments are being made in this regard; reality is what it is. Playoff P is the ideal. Pandemic P is a constant threat. The P who will rear his head in the crunch figures to determine the future.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.