OKLAHOMA CITY -- It was a far different atmosphere at Oklahoma City Thunder media day than last year's, with a laid-back vibe and an unusual complete absence of drama.
Last season on media day, the basketball world was still whirring after Carmelo Anthony was dealt to the Thunder the day before, but other than some curiosity about the state of Russell Westbrook's knee -- he reaffirmed his arthroscopic surgery was no big deal -- everything was pretty straightforward Monday. Most specifically with Paul George, who instead of answering questions about an unknown future was talking about title contention and the reasons he re-signed with the franchise.
"Absolutely," Paul George told ESPN when asked if the Thunder are built to contend. "We've got the chemistry. Me being around these guys going on about to be two years now, there's an expectation and a level we know we need to play at. I think the consistency part you'll see with us now being able to play well against the sub-.500 teams. But I definitely think this team has a chance. The reason why I signed back here is because I believed in it. And everybody in here believes. It's on us, we've got our work cut out and it's not going to be easy, but we're up for it."
After a year of speculation about his future, George decided to sign long-term with the Thunder, providing a level of continuity and stability that hasn't been seen in OKC the past few seasons. And as George said, he also enters this season with a clear mind and clear understanding of his future.
"For me, it comes to direction," George said. "There's no unsureness, no second-guessing what's going on. I'm here; I'm committed, I'm part of this team. And now that's all I can focus on, is getting better, trying to win games and ultimately winning a championship here."
"I think for the past two or three years, there's always been speculations or people deciding what my future should be," he said. "I know where I'm at and the world knows where I'm at. So yeah, in a sense I can go back to just playing ball and enjoying the game."
Westbrook played a crucial role in selling the franchise to George, though he said he didn't really do anything all that different with recruiting his All-Star teammate back compared to prior situations.
"I've always done the same thing I've always been doing," Westbrook said. "For me, I'm a real person. I'm real. I keep it 100, straightforward. I don't go out and be someone I'm not just to get somebody to stay because that's considered being fake, and for me, I be myself at all times as you guys know, and it's important to do that, and that's part of being a leader, part of being a leader of this team, an organization, and that's what I do."
Both George and Westbrook talked about improving chemistry and how a second season together will greatly benefit the way they play off each other. Also, with the addition of Dennis Schroder and subtraction of Anthony, the Thunder aim to play with a stronger, more tangible identity this season, embracing more speed and tempo in their style.
"It's a loss in some ways with what Melo brought," George said. "But we're a different team. We've added some things, we should be a lot faster, a lot quicker."
The Thunder traded Anthony over the summer, a very cooperative decision made by the team and Anthony after a rocky season -- on the court -- together.
"It played out how it was supposed to, I guess," George said. "We miss Melo here as a teammate, as a brother, but if something doesn't work, it doesn't work. It's nothing that he did, it's nothing that the organization did, nothing that the coaches did. If something doesn't work, it just doesn't work, and that's fine. We've got to be able to move on from that, and he's in a better situation for him, and we've got to move on and get prepared as a team."