Almost eight months after suffering a gruesome leg injury, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George’s return is still uncertain, but there are promising signs he may suit up soon this season, after an encouraging comment from team president Larry Bird on Monday.
“I expect [George] to play this year,” Bird said, according to ESPN’s Mike Mazzeo. “I hope he does for his own good — not for us to get in the playoffs or anything like that, but just for his own mental state. I think anytime you go through an injury like that, you have to get back out there and prove yourself. “
There are still no guarantees the 24-year-old will see action, it’s all a matter of how he feels and the Pacers’ position in the standings. Indiana (30-40) is currently in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, two spots away from a playoff berth. The Pacers have lost six straight to plummet from the No. 6 spot in the East and trail No. 8 seed Boston by one game. Before the losing streak, Indiana had won 13 of 15 games and shot themselves up the standings. George’s return could perhaps re-energize the team, but everyone involved in the process has to feel it’s the right time.
"We want to make sure I'm as close to 100 [percent] as possible," George said to reporters. "It's not coming down to you know, 'Paul's feeling good, let's get him out there.' It's about making sure everything's where I'm comfortable, where the medical staff is comfortable, where the front office is comfortable."
ESPN.com reported Friday night that the Pacers were hoping for George to return this week, and he might come back as early as last Saturday’s game against Brooklyn. The narrative seems to be shifting away from an imminent return to a vaguer plan. George has been on the fence since returning to practice early and attempting to get back in shape. While he has reportedly been cleared by doctors, it’s unclear if he’s ready to compete in an NBA game.
“Just because he’s cleared to play, doesn’t mean he’s in shape to play,” Bird said, according to ESPN. “And I don’t want Paul to go out there until he feels comfortable with his conditioning and the way he’s practicing. I’d like to see him do a little bit better.
"It was a rough go at the beginning, which we knew it was going to be. He (isn’t) going to be Paul George, 100 percent. We know that.”
George was considered one of the top young stars in the NBA before suffering a compound fracture of his leg after colliding with a stanchion behind a hoop while playing in a scrimmage for Team USA on Aug. 1, 2014. He averaged 21.7 points 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 2013-2014 for the Pacers. The frenzy surrounding his possible return seems to be frustrating for George, especially with the prospect of getting back on the court.
"Honestly, it's getting annoying," he said to reporters. "I think people are waiting to see me out there, I'm waiting to get out there."