Paul George opts out of contract, becomes free agent and will take meetings with Clippers, Sixers, Magic

Paul George has opted out of the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Clippers and will become an unrestricted free agent, CBS Sports’ Bill Reiter confirms. He plans to set up meetings with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Orlando Magic and the Clippers on Sunday night, according to The Athletic. George has been with the Clippers since their blockbuster acquisition of both him and Kawhi Leonard in the summer of 2019. That duo has failed to reach the NBA Finals in five seasons together due largely to injuries both have suffered in or before the postseason. Now, George will consider other options for his future.

Negotiations between George and the Clippers have been tense dating back to the season. In January, the Clippers signed Leonard to a three-year, $153 million extension that was below his max. Since then, reports have indicated that the Clippers hope to sign George to a deal similar to that one. George, on the other hand, is hoping for a four-year max contract. He said during the season that he hoped to figure out a new deal with the Clippers, his hometown team, but he took the risk of going unsigned into the summer, and now he wants to be rewarded for that with a max contract.

If the Clippers don’t blink and offer him a max contract, there are multiple teams expected to do so. The 76ers are at the top of that last, and speculation was rampant earlier this month when George appeared on ESPN’s NBA Countdown with 76ers star Joel Embiid. The Magic have also been a rumored destination, and while no reports have connected them, it’s worth noting that one of George’s former teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder, have significant cap space and could potentially reach the max through trades if they needed to.

The Clippers have invested an enormous amount of draft capital into this team. They famously traded five first-round picks, two swaps and eventual MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to secure George, and they doubled down last season by trading more picks to get James Harden, who is also a free agent. If George walks for nothing, the Clippers have very limited means of replacing him, and with all of their picks belonging to other teams, pivoting into a rebuild wouldn’t be easy.

But the second apron is terrifying to virtually every team around the NBA now. The Clippers are seemingly afraid of paying George his desired contract, locking themselves into a team that hasn’t proven to be championship-caliber yet, and then eventually restricting their ability to improve and even freezing future first-round picks at the end of the first round. Now George and his team are in a staring contest. He seemingly wants them to pay up. They want him to take a discount. Now that he’s opted out, he’s free to walk when free agency begins, and if he does, the Clippers may not get anything in return.

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