INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Pacers All-Star forward Paul George expects to hit a huge milestone in the coming weeks: He will be cleared to run on a basketball court with the speed of a middle-aged man.
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Though George has recently posted teasers to a documentary about his comeback from a severe broken leg injury, away from the cameras he is still simply moving through the necessary rehabilitation steps and his team still expects to complete the 2014-15 season without him.
“It’s a goal for sure to be able to have the opportunity to play this year, especially alongside the group of guys that we’ve got,” George said. “I feel very confident with the guys we got (who) are in the jersey or out of the jersey right now. We have a good team. That’s one of my goals. I would love to come back and make a return and help this team out anyway I can down the line. But right now it’s about getting healthy and making sure I’m good for the future.”.
After participating in a three-point shooting contest with teammates, George met with news reporters for the first time since the summer.
The highlights: George has not traveled with the Pacers yet this season because the road would likely disrupt his rehab routine, but he plans to hop the team charter later in the year, especially for extended trips.
George applauded the effort of the current roster, which has compiled a 5-7 record despite a string of injuries to key players who remain out of commission — David West, George Hill, C.J. Watson and CJ Miles.
George also described how difficult it has been for him to sit and not play the game he loves.
“When you lose something like basketball, which is everything to me,” George said, “I feel like I took a lot of things for granted in this game and coming back, there will be a lot more passion through it and just a lot of love for this game.
“I think that will show the second I’m back on the court.”.
However, George is expected to have to wait until the 2015-’16 season to show that passion.
Days after George underwent surgery, the Pacers applied for and received a disabled player exception, which allows teams over the salary cap to replace an injured player who will likely be unable to play through the season. But during the team’s media day session in October, George dangled the carrot saying that it was “very possible” to return later this year by the playoffs. Since then, the Pacers have muted that outlook.
“Very unlikely that Paul George plays this year,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Friday.
Vogel also addressed whether the timeline had been pushed up because of George’s progress.
“No,” he said. “It’s really a big unknown. It’s going to be up to the doctors to see where he’s at as he starts increasing activity. He hasn’t done any real activity on that thing other than walk around and shoot around. It’s still a long ways away and we’re still approaching it like it’s very unlikely he he’s going to play this year.”.
George, who can participate in dribbling drills and 3-point shooting contests, has been working out in a pool and running on a treadmill for conditioning. George said he expects to move toward limited on-court jogging. Though George described this coming transition as “huge for my next step,” he explained how limited the activity would be while the Pacers’ director of media relations stood by his right shoulder.
“Not really running. I would say, as fast as David Benner can run in a sprint,” George said to several laughs, “which is the lightest jog you can get but that’s where I’m at right now.” Benner is Pacers director of media relations.
After light jogging for several weeks, George said, the next stage should increase to running and at some point, making cuts on the floor and “becoming a basketball player again.”.
Until then, small steps — with the bigger goal in sight.
“I still go out in my day as if I’m playing,” George said. “Obviously, there are limitations but everyday it feels great. My rehab is going good. I’m satisfied. I’m happy where I’m at.”.
Candace Buckner writes for The Indianapolis Star and is a member of USA TODAY Sports’ NBA power rankings panel.