When Paul George informed the Indiana Pacers this offseason that he wouldn’t re-sign with the team in 2018, it became widely assumed that meant he would join the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent next summer. Growing up in California and rooting for the Lakers, there have been rumors for months that George would head to L.A. when given the chance.

That’s why teams like the Boston Celtics were wary of parting with too many assets to acquire George, who could turn out just to be a one-year rental. The Oklahoma City Thunder ended up pulling the trigger on a trade, hoping that the combination of George and Russell Westbrook can turn the team into a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

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George acknowledged that he’s considered playing for the Lakers, but he dismissed the notion that he’s already made his mind up to play in L.A.

“I grew up a Lakers and a Clippers fan,” George told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins. “I idolized Kobe. There will always be a tie here, a connection here. People saying I want to come here, who doesn’t want to play for their hometown? That’s a dream come true, if you’re a kid growing up on the outskirts of L.A., to be the man in your city. But it’s definitely been overstated. For me, it’s all about winning. I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning. I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”

Certainly upsetting the Warriors could keep George in Oklahoma City. If the Thunder hadn’t blown their 3-1 lead over Golden State in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, Kevin Durant would have never left the Thunder.

Beating the Warriors is probably unrealistic. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t come close to doing so in the 2017 NBA Finals, and the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets are still favored to finish ahead of the Thunder in the West.

Paul George Russell Westbrook Paul George could choose the Oklahoma City Thunder over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 free agency. Pictured: George dribbles while being defended by Russell Westbrook at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19, 2016 in Indianapolis. Photo: Getty Images

George, however, sees an opportunity to form a perennial contender in Oklahoma City. The Thunder arguably have two of the league’s 10 best players heading into next season, and adding another All-Star could make them a championship threat.

“It’s too early for L.A.,” he says. “It would have to be a situation where the ball gets rolling and guys are hopping on. This guy commits, that guy commits. ‘Oh s---, now there’s a team forming.’ It has to be like that.” But the same is true for virtually every locale outside of Oakland. “I’m in OKC, so hopefully me and Russ do a good enough job and make it to the conference finals and love the situation, why not recruit someone to come build it with us? I’m open in this whole process.”

The Lakers will be one of the worst teams in the NBA next year. L.A. hasn’t won more than 27 games in the last four years, and they didn’t get much better this offseason. Relying on young players like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, who could be All-Stars in the future, will put Los Angeles near the bottom of the league for a fifth straight season.

Of course, George isn’t going to say he’s already decided on playing for the Lakers if that’s how he truly feels. Golden State has a good chance to cruise to the Finals, once again, and staying in Oklahoma City might not seem as appealing after a playoff loss.

Some NBA insiders believe it’s a foregone conclusion that George will sign with the Lakers in 2018. The Ringer’s Bill Simmons recently joked that they should already be selling Paul George Lakers jerseys, saying, “Paul George is going to the Lakers anyway. I mean, that’s not even a secret anymore.”

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George’s decision could ultimately depend on what other All-Stars choose to do. LeBron James has the chance to become a free agent next year, and there are rumors that he has his eyes on the Lakers. It’d be difficult for George to turn down the opportunity to play with the league’s best player with his hometown team.

Then again, if James chooses to stay in Cleveland and other stars pass up offers from the Lakers, maybe George will stay in Oklahoma City after all.