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Avoiding Rust: Paul George Coming Back This Season?

If cleared, it makes a lot of sense for Paul George to return this season.

Yannis Koutroupis profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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From the minute that Indiana Pacers star guard Paul George had a metal rod and three screws put in to help his broken right leg, which he suffered during a Team USA intersquad scrimmage this summer, the expectation was that he would be out for the year. George’s injury was one of the most gruesome in sports history, so bad that the scrimmage was called off afterwards as the only concern was his well being. Playing this year seemed completely out of the question, but Tuesday marked the seventh month mark from his surgery, and a cryptic tweet from George followed up by the first comments from Pacers president Larry Bird about his recovery sparked the most amount of optimism we’ve seen yet.

“I’m always in a win-now mode. I want to win and that’s been my goal, to try to get into the playoffs,” Bird said to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star. “Hopefully, down the road, we’ll see where Paul’s at. We still have no idea whether he’s coming back or not, but it seems like every week he’s getting better and better. If we do have an opportunity to get into the playoffs and he can get some games under his belt and (then) get ready to go next year (then we could play him).

“I always say if the player is ready to play, he’s got to play. We’re not going to hold (George) back if he’s able to go out there and play. I think it’s important because when you’re out like that, you lose something. He’s going to get beat up, he’s going to get knocked around, he’s not going to look good but I still think it’s important, if he’s able to play, he should be out there.

“I just know he’s out there running around, he don’t look very good, but he’s out there running around. And they tell me seven months and that bone will be completely healed and it’s just how much further he’ll come along after that,” Bird said. “We’ll go from there. I have no clue whether he’s going to play or not, but if he gets healthy and they say he can play and he wants to play, we’ll put him out there.”

Bird’s take sparks an interesting debate over the value of rest over shaking off rust. Initial instinct after such a horrific injury of course would say to keep George off of the floor for as long as possible. That’s not the kind of injury that you want to rush back from. He has a long career ahead of him and a lost season for the betterment of his health in the grand scheme of things is a very small sacrifice to make.

On the other side of the spectrum, though, what really matters is that George is playing with doctor’s clearance and that he isn’t at risk of re-aggravating the injury or setting himself back. He won’t even come close to seeing the floor until that happens. If he’s cleared with some time left in the regular season, it does make some sense for George to get out there, get the comeback behind him and start to build his confidence on his surgically-repaired leg. George isn’t your average player coming back from injury. His comeback is going to be closely monitored and highly-covered as the world is eager to see how he recovers. Anticipation and expectations may be a little bit too great after a year and a half away.

Bird talked about the playoffs earlier and at 17-32 advancing to the postseason is still a realistic goal for the Pacers, albeit just slightly. They’re four and a half games back of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, where 21-27 is currently good for seventh and eighth place. The Pacers are battling with the Charlotte Hornets, Miami HEAT, Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics for the final two spots, with the Orlando Magic teetering on the verge of falling out of that mix at 15-36.

Regardless of when he does come back, George is going to be looked at as the savior for the Pacers, as they’ve proven to be a significantly less dangerous team without him and Lance Stephenson, whose departure has become amplified as a result of coinciding with George’s injury. Salvaging the season and helping the Pacers punch their fifth-straight ticket to the postseason would be a fairy tale ending to an otherwise disastrous season for George and the Pacers, but Pacers head coach Frank Vogel issued caution on a day of optimism.

“I think you’ve just got to be smart,” Vogel said. “Like Larry said, if the doctors say he can go, then I think he should get on the court and try it as soon as he’s ready to but we all understand that’s a long time from now.”

“Playing this year? I don’t believe he’s going to play this year. I don’t believe he will.”

This storyline won’t go away until a definitive decision is reached on George’s status. But, the fact that we’re talking about it at all is an encouraging development of himself. Who would have thought just seven months after that nasty compound fracture there would be a chance we see him this season?

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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