OKLAHOMA CITY — People bustled in and out of Jones Assembly, a quaint-but-hip social haunt on Oklahoma City’s burgeoning Film Row, which will host a handful of popular music acts in the coming months.
Wednesday, Paul George was the entertainment.
He walked out on stage, sliding between surrounding video boards, and opened his arms wide. His new city opened its arms back.
The Oklahoma City Thunder introduced its newest and glitziest addition, with season-ticket holders there to absorb it all, pursing their lips against cold drinks and chewing appetizers.
“I’ve been wowed ever since I got here,” George said.
Oklahoma City had a vacancy for a star with a two-letter nickname ever since Kevin Durant’s departure, and George began his quest to fill it.
How long he plays that role is anyone’s guess.
Almost as soon as the four-time NBA All-Star was greeted, George’s potential departure came directly into focus.
OKC might have only one season to prove itself as a long-term destination for George. As a Southern California native, in the past he has expressed desire to join the Los Angeles Lakers when he becomes an unrestricted free agent following the 2017-18 season.
George could be a one-year lease for the Thunder.
He has backed off speculation about his own future since June 30, when news broke that he had been traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City, in exchange for Thunder wing Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis.
Shuffled into a nearby hotel following his public appearance before Thunder fans — among them majority owner Clay Bennett and OKC mayor Mick Cornett — George was forced to broach the topic with media.
What will it take to keep him in Oklahoma?
“Right now, it’s taking things as it comes,” George said. “A fresh start, a chance to do something special is really the first thing that comes to mind. I’m not looking past 2017-2018. We haven’t accomplished nothing yet.
“When it comes to that, when I get there, we’ll address that. Right now, me and Russ (Westbrook) have something to build now. We’ll see where it takes us. It could be something special we build and continue to want to build.”
George brings career averages of 18.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 43.2 percent field goal shooting — 37 percent from 3-point range — to a team equipped with the reigning league MVP in Westbrook, a defensive cog in Andre Roberson and seasoned free-agent additions at forward and backup point guard.
George appears intrigued, among other things, about OKC’s defensive potential.
“We could be pretty special,” he said.
In fear of ruining his own house-warming party, what he couldn’t say was much, if anything, about what next summer might hold. Plenty of questions remain.
Westbrook is currently eligible for a five-year extension, but for two weeks the front has been quiet on where he and OKC stand. His decision could easily factor into George’s.
George’s first few days in OKC bring brought a sense of excitement and foundation for the Thunder, but the organization still has an uncertain future. A year from now, the mood could be entirely different if George moves on.
Bringing him into the fold was worth the risk, in Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s opinion. The Thunder have gone all-in on next season.
“The risk in this decision was not making it,” Presti said.
OKC has also been here before, with decisions looming around both Durant and Westbrook last summer. The players have usually handled it well during the season, and coach Billy Donovan expects George to do the same.
“He’s been in this league a long time (seven years). He understands each and every day, you still have to come out and compete and put your best foot forward,” Donovan said.
For at least one year, George will do that in Thunder blue, and he isn’t ruling out a longer future in that color.
“Like I’ve been saying, I could come here and love it, as I have (already),” George said. “At the end of the day, if (he and Westbrook) love where we’re at and we feel like we can do something special here, I’m open to it. But that will be something to address at the end of the season.”