With leg healed, Paul George eyes new season, return to Team USA
Paul George is too busy this summer to reflect much on his gruesome leg injury.
Eleven months after the injury ruined his season and derailed the Pacers’ title hopes, George has moved on. He’s dunking off both feet, following his traditional training regimen and preparing for another NBA season with a new cast of teammates — all without giving his broken right leg a second thought.
“It almost seems like it happened ages ago,” George said Saturday at a basketball camp in Indianapolis. “I forget sometimes that it happened less than a year ago, and that’s a good thing because I’ve just been on the court, working out.”
That’s good news for the Pacers, who desperately need George to regain his All-Star form if they’re going to make the playoffs or contend for a championship.
Their seemingly stable roster has undergone a major offseason overhaul. Starting forward David West, two-time All-Star center Roy Hibbert, backup point guard C.J. Watson and backup forward Luis Scola all have found new homes.
Indiana responded by re-signing two backups, guard Rodney Stuckey and forward Lavoy Allen, and has a deal in place with free agent shooting guard Monta Ellis. It also chose athletic big man Myles Turner and combo guard Joe Young in the draft. Other moves could be on the way as the team moves from the plodding half-court offense that spurred two Eastern Conference finals runs to the trendier up-tempo pace.
Players are still trying to figure out their roles.
“They’ve just told me to be ready when my name is called,” said Turner, who was working the camp with George and Young. “I’ve just got to go out there and compete. I think that’s what’s important at the next level.”
One thing is obvious: A healthy George is essential to make all this work.
The good news is that George likes the change of direction. He just didn’t expect so many changes.
“We needed to get better at pushing the tempo,” George said. “I didn’t know it was going to be this drastic, but I like the pickups. I think it opens George Hill’s game up, it opens my game up, it definitely opens C.J. (Miles’) game up and that should help.”
The biggest question aside from George’s health is where the versatile swingman fits next season.
Last week Vogel said he expected George to play some at power forward, though it sounded like his minutes would be limited there. On Thursday, president of basketball operations Larry Bird told NBA TV that he expected George to play more extensively in West’s old spot and that any potential defensive liability caused by George’s slender 6-foot-9, 220-pound body would be offset by the mismatches he creates on offense.
Others have wondered whether the nightly pounding George could face from bigger, stronger players could hurt the comeback.
“I’m a ballplayer, so you can put me anywhere on the court and I’ll make the most of it,” George said. “It’s not like I’m going to be logging 30 minutes at power forward, but a couple here and there.”
But instead of cutting down his schedule to get healthy, George is going full speed ahead after missing 76 games before making his season debut on April 5.
Since co-hosting a charity softball game with some Indianapolis Colts players last month in Indianapolis, he’s been working out and playing pickup games in Los Angeles. He returned to Indy on Saturday to help teach 250 youngsters the finer points of the game at the Kroger Unplug and Play Paul George Basketball ProCamp at Avon High School on the city’s west side.
Next week, he begins a three-city stop in the Philippines and China as an ambassador for Nike. Next summer, less than two years after running into a basketball stanchion and snapping his leg during a Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas, George intends to play with the U.S Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro.
“Larry, of all people, knows how important it is to play and represent your country. So he’s got my back on that one, and it’s a personal goal,” George said. “Coach (Mike) Krzyzewski knows I’m on board.”
He can’t wait to put the injury behind him.
“I feel great,” George said. “I still notice some things that are not Paul George characteristic yet, but I feel good and the good thing is we’re still in mid-summer. By training camp, I’ll be ready to go.”