For now, the Indiana Pacers are keeping the possibility of Paul George returning this season already as something of a mystery. It’s more and more likely that despite early optimism, he’s not coming back.
Why? George himself has said that he doesn’t want to get in the way. Against all preseason predictions and from how this season developed and began, the Pacers are going to make the NBA playoffs, sitting right now at 7th in the East. Sure, it might say something about how weak this conference is, but speaks volumes about how good of a coach Frank Vogel is, and the work he has done with the “remaining players” from a team that has made two consecutive conference finals.
I think if it gets to the point that these guys are in the playoffs and we’re talking about coming back, we might as well let these guys finish that out. I want to play, but I don’t want to play under any terms, just getting out there,” George said. “I want to be fully healthy.
And there’s George himself, who broke his leg while team USA was doing its round of pre-World Championship games in the summer. He looks good for someone who broke his leg about seven months ago, but he’s nowhere near the form and shape required of an NBA player. The Pacers don’t want to take the risk of bringing him back if there’s very little for him to contribute.
According to Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star, Pacers’ teammates, while highly supportive, see a player who looks good for someone who broke his leg while noting that he is still on the mend. One teammate declared that George is ‘not even close to 100 percent’ while expressing strong skepticism about a return this year.
This situation is slightly similar to Derrick Rose in 2013, teasing the fans and his own teammates with a return before deciding that it’s not worth it. His later injuries put aside, he didn’t want to risk the rest of his career for the sake of being a rusty star who’s thrown in too soon on a team that doesn’t have much of a chance of doing well in the playoffs anyway.
To see and hear about George practicing and playing basketball is great, but if he’s not 100% healthy and ready to play at the highest level, it’s better to keep him on the shelf this season and wait for a full year of rehab and recovery before building a team around him once again.