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Paul George still has his sights set on winning MVP

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He’s said it many times before, but this time it feels different.

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NBA: Indiana Pacers-Media Day Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It must be September. Paul George will be playing alongside three new starters in a new system under a new coach, but he opened training camp with the same individual goal he’s openly pined for prior to the start of each of his last two full seasons.

“I definitely want to be MVP this year,” George said on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “It’s tough, as always; but, with Coach Nate (McMillan) and the guys that we have here, I’m in position to move into that spot.”

George, whose defense and malleability arguably made him the MVP of Team USA off the bench, has the eighth-best odds (22-1) of winning the NBA’s most prestigious regular season award, according to oddsmakers at Bovada.

In order for Indiana’s two-way star to force his way into the MVP conversation, the Pacers will probably need to bank on Golden State voter fatigue and look like serious challengers to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East by the end of the season.

The potential for Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant to split votes and for LeBron James to prioritize rest over winning could aid George’s sleeper candidacy, if he can channel the degree of dominance he displayed against the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs over a larger sample size while avoiding the type of mid-season shooting slumps that have contributed to him sliding several rungs down the MVP ladder in previous seasons.

“It’s not mine for the taking,” George said of the award. “I’ve got to go get it, and this is my year to go get it.”

The three-time All-Star has been saying this for three years, but the level of confidence he exhibited with the United States men’s national team in Rio as well as at Monday’s Media Day would go along way toward transforming even his most ardent skeptic into a believer.

“I’ve always seen myself as that next level talent,” George said at Monday’s press conference. “I think this is my first opportunity to really prove that I’m ready for the task of being the, for sure, best player on the court each night.”

During his year off, he became a student and rediscovered his passion. Against the Raptors, he looked like an alpha. As an Olympian, he learned the importance sacrifice plays in winning. Prior to training camp, he pledged himself to participate in, what was for him, a non-mandatory conditioning drill.

“It starts with me,” George said of his decision. “I’m going to run. I’m not excited about it, but how can I get on my teammates if I’m not on the line?”

Before, George’s annual goal of winning MVP came across as an improbable dream that would emerge and fade with the rest of that particular season’s Media Day optimism. Now, despite the long odds, his maturation as a leader makes it seem far more attainable.

“I think yearly I get better,” the gold medalist said of his growth. “I figure things out. I learn more. I’ve always been a student of this game, and it’s going to continue to progress.”