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Tuesday Bolts: 6.26.18

Andy Hall (ESPN) on Paul George’s upcoming three-part ESPN series focused on his free agency: SportsCenter will take viewers behind the scenes with the five-time NBA All-Star with exclusive and intimate access during his offseason in “Paul George: My Journey,” a three-part series that will debut in the 6 p.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Tuesday, June 26… Part 1 will examine George’s rise to NBA stardom while the second part, debuting June 28, will follow him during his off-court pursuits as he prepares to build on his career. Part 3, which will air after George’s NBA plans are made public, will give viewers a look at what’s next for George and how he arrived at his ultimate decision. All three parts will be approximately six minutes in length.”

Scooby Axon (SI) on the Lakers’ pitch to Paul George getting leaked: “The Los Angeles Lakers are among those teams thought to be vying for George’s services. An apparent recruiting pitch was leaked to SI.com’s Robin Lundberg and it is in form of a voiceover the Lakers plan on using with video. A person contacted to potentially audition for the voiceover was given directions that it should be “less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx.” The pitch entitled “Two Dreams” makes hints about who the pitch is for.”

Rob Mahoney (SI) on why every team could use Paul George: “Whichever team George signs with will get high level play from the wing on both sides of the ball—a precious commodity in the modern NBA. Few defenders are more versatile, and few stars are better suited for working alongside other stars. Every team could use a player like George, though whether he’ll really consider any outside of Los Angeles remains to be seen.”

Royce Young & Tim MacMahon on the ‘what-ifs’ after James Harden won MVP: “There was a purity and innocence to it all, with all three young stars oblivious to what was eventually ahead. Two years later that moment segued into another enduring image, with the Thunder’s three stars standing on the sideline together in Miami as the Heat eliminated them in a five-game NBA Finals. Harden was in the middle, an arm around Durant and Westbrook each, watching the seconds tick away as LeBron James celebrated his first title. The trio never played another game together. Harden was traded before the beginning of the next season and Durant left through free agency in 2016 — and now they each stand apart, their arms around their own franchises, with Harden joining Durant and Westbrook as MVP winners. The original OKC big three exist only in the NBA afterlife, tucked away in the great vault of what-ifs, all realizing their full individual potential while disconnected from the others.”

Video: What if Russ, Harden, and KD were still in OKC? Royce Young discusses the Thunder’s rise and questions what could’ve been if Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden were still teammates.

Charles Curtis (USA Today) on everyone coming to the same sad Thunder realization after Harden’s MVP win: “Oklahoma City Thunder fans don’t need to be reminded that the team once had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden on the same roster and didn’t win a title. But it’s hard not to talk about it after all three have won NBA MVP in their incredible careers. Harden — now with the Houston Rockets, of course — was named 2017-18 MVP on Monday, and Twitter responded this way.”

RealGM on Russell Westbrook being aware that players may not want to play with him: “One thing Russell Westbrook is not known for is he’s not a real social guy when it comes to team dinners, hanging out, cookouts at the house, playing video games and doing those types of things. Westbrook was kind of off and isolated. “He’s kind of broken out of that shell with Paul George.” Westbrook reportedly is aware of the perception some around the league have that certain players may not want to play with him. “It’s a conversation I’ve had with him and other people have talked to him about. He’s aware of the idea that people don’t want to play with him,” said Young. Whether that’s true or not. Really, this is kind of an unfair setup for him. Paul George coming to Oklahoma City; they were never on the radar. It was well known that the Lakers were his preferred destination. If Westbrook can pull it off, it’s a feather in his cap for sure. At the same time, it’s going to be something people are going to talk about. It’s going to be a narrative that persists if Paul George leaves whether it’s Westbrook’s fault or not.”

Erik Horne on how the Thunder and other salary-cap strapped teams can find opt-out bargains: “In 2016, an anticipated cap spike of $24 million meant teams were flush with cash. Entering July 1, only eight teams were under the projected $101 million salary cap (Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix, Indiana, Brooklyn, Orlando, Sacramento, Atlanta). Even when the teams which are close to getting under the cap do so – like Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Lakers – they’ll be doing so with eyes on big free agents. LeBron James, Paul George, and Chris Paul are among those big names who are expected to command max salaries after opting out of the final season of their current contract. Where does that leave the smaller names? It leaves free agents like Thaddeus Young, Rudy Gay and maybe even Enes Kanter if he opts out of his final guaranteed season of $18.6 million (he won’t. That’s a lot of money for a center) with few options.”

Horne on potential low-cost free agent targets for the Thunder: “Thaddeus Young, PF. After a solid year in Indiana, Young will reportedly decline a $13.8 million player option. With few teams having the cap space to pay Young that number in annual salary, he could be seeking more years at a lower annual rate, like the $8.6 million non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception or the taxpayer’s mid-level… Rudy Gay, PF/SF. In one season in San Antonio, Gay proved he can still play after coming off an Achilles injury. But he won’t get more annually than the $8.8 million per season he’s reportedly opting out of. He might be looking for a change of scenery, a smaller deal on a contender like Golden State or Houston, or more years. Visited OKC in free agency last summer.”

Around the League: James Harden is the MVP…. All NBA Awards winners…. Bill Russell gave Charles Barkley the middle finger at the NBA Awards Show…. The Nuggets declined Nikola Jokic’s option in order to give him the max…. How Trae Young was groomed for the NBA spotlight…. Joel Embiid has a three-word recruiting pitch to LeBron James…. How the Sixers can have their cake and eat it too.