OKLAHOMA CITY — Paul George is fortunate to have a teammate who can relate to exactly what he’s going through.
When George takes the court Wednesday night, he’ll be doing so against his former team, the Indiana Pacers, for whom he played for seven years. It took only four games into his Oklahoma City Thunder career to arrive here. But at least he received three more contests to ease into the season than Carmelo Anthony did.
Anthony’s previous team, the New York Knicks, came to Oklahoma City for opening night.
“I’m pretty sure he’ll be excited about playing tomorrow. I would be,” Anthony said Tuesday. “I think the mindset that he has is trying to get a win, especially after dropping two in a row, and try to get back on the right track. If I sit here and say he’s not excited about that game, I’d be lying to y’all.”
Yet in some ways, the emotion isn’t as overpowering as possible.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan has made the point that it’s always easier to play a “revenge game” at home than it is on the road. The currently 1-2 Thunder don’t head to Indiana until Dec. 13. And Anthony is calling that a benefit for George, too.
“I think it’s a little bit easier when you get a chance to play on your court first, get that out of the way rather than open it up on the road there in New York or Indiana,” Anthony said. “The emotions are a little bit different.”
Deflating the atmosphere a bit further is the Pacers’ turnover from a season ago.
Indiana’s roster has changed as much as if not more than the Thunder’s. And if center Myles Turner, who has been out and recovering from a concussion, does not play, then forward Thaddeus Young would be the only Pacers starter Wednesday night who also ran alongside George in the first unit a season ago.
Starting point guard Darren Collison and wing Bojan Bogdanovic signed with Indiana this offseason. Guard Victor Oladipo and usual replacement for Turner Domantas Sabonis came over from OKC in the George trade, which went down just before the start of the NBA’s free agency period.
Yet, that doesn’t change the desire from George, who said he “absolutely” wants this victory.
“I’ll be laser focused and really up for the task, up to get this win tomorrow,” he said Tuesday. “I’m excited for this challenge, excited for this matchup.”
Of course, this isn’t a one-way revenge fest. And in some ways, Wednesday night could be more emotional for Oladipo and Sabonis than it is for George. Both will likely hear generous ovations from the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd, as the vast majority of Thunder players do.
Each of the two played only one season in Oklahoma City, six seasons fewer than George did in Indiana, but this is the actual return to their former home, the first in-person encounter with Thunder fans since the trade. And both have far more bulbous numbers early in the season than they did during their time with the Thunder.
“I think for Domas just being a rookie and going through the league one time is only going to help him. I’m sure for him, he’s learned a new system and style in Indiana. He’s going to be fine,” Donovan said. “He’s a really good player.
“I think the same thing for Victor…He’s in a good spot. He’s playing to his strengths. So, both those guys, I think, will do very well.”
Yet, the star tends to command the storyline. That’s how this works, isn’t it?
It will be George’s night even more so when the Thunder play in Indianapolis in less than two months. But that doesn’t make Wednesday nothing. It’s something. And just like Anthony, even George is willing to admit the extra fervor that will go into what would otherwise be merely an early-season, non-conference game.
“It’ll be emotional from the standpoint of, it’s the organization I started with, had a wonderful journey with, seven unbelievable years with,” George said. “It’ll be emotional from that standpoint…It’ll be fun to see a lot of familiar faces, especially in the front office. I look forward to tomorrow.”
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as a host of the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.