"It was an awesome gamble. They went all-in and went blackjack," George said after USA Basketball's minicamp practice Thursday.
George told the Indiana Pacers during the 2016-17 season that he preferred to be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in hopes of playing in his native Southern California. The Pacers, however, announced a deal to send the five-time All-Star to the gambling Thunder for guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis on July 6, 2017.
Despite the fact that George had interest in the Lakers, the Palmdale, California, native recently signed a four-year, $137 million contract to remain with the Thunder without taking a meeting from any other team.
George said he privately decided to return to the Thunder several weeks before free agency began on July 1. He also acknowledged having an expectation that NBA star LeBron James would sign with the Lakers as a free agent.
So why didn't George give the Lakers a meeting in free agency?
"It was absolutely tempting," George said. "Honestly, I wanted to come back home. But again, I got traded to Oklahoma. Loved the situation. Loved where I was at. I decided to stick around a little longer. ...
"I just wanted my free agency to be over with. In my heart, I felt great about Oklahoma and I wasn't going to prolong it if I felt good about it already."
George averaged 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and a 40.1 3-point shooting percentage for the Thunder during the 2017-18 season. The Thunder had the fourth-best record in the Western Conference, going 48-34. Despite having a roster with George, 2017 NBA Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook and 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder lost to the fifth-seeded Utah Jazz in six games during the first round of the playoffs.
The Thunder's disappointing finish actually played a motivational role in George deciding to return. The 6-foot-9 swingman added that he "felt most comfortable" with his career going forward with the Thunder and enjoyed the "camaraderie." Though Anthony has been traded, the Thunder did acquire point guard Dennis Schroder, whom George described as "the best backup point guard in the league."
"I felt when it came down to it and all the factors that played into it, deep down there was a nasty taste where we finished," George said. "I just felt I had more to offer. I had more to give. I just felt about where we were as a whole.
"I honestly went through the process and doing pros and cons throughout the whole [season]. I wouldn't say the whole [season] was a recruiting process. I was just trying to find the highs and lows and the good and bad. Ultimately, I just felt this was the road for me to win."
George and Westbrook are among the elite NBA stars on USA Basketball's senior men's basketball roster. Many of the players on the roster are taking part in a two-day minicamp under new head coach Gregg Popovich, who is the longtime head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. George previously won a gold medal with USA Basketball during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
While George was talking to the media after practice at UNLV's Mendenhall Center, Westbrook jokingly yelled, "Tell them the truth. Tell them I am a bad teammate." George said that Westbrook "knew all along" that George would return to Oklahoma City.
"I know the media had the memes of him saying, '''P not going nowhere.' We got a kick out of that," George said. "Honestly, Russ didn't put any pressure on me. But he knew all along I was going to stick around. It was just that vibe."