Paul George still has plenty of hurdles to clear

Paul George is chomping at the bit to return the court. We know that.

Head coach Frank Vogel continue to coach under the assumption that his best player won’t be a part of game action this season.

Pacers President Larry Bird, who spoke with local reporters on Tuesday for just the second time during the 2014-15 season, remains hopeful that George may take the court this year.

“Hopefully down the road we’ll see where Paul’s at,” Bird said, seated on a high-chair in a hallway at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “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 in the playoffs and he can get some games under his belt and get ready to go next year.”

Paul George gets some ball handling work in with teammate George Hill prior to a home game.

Since George’s injury, back on August 1 during a USA Basketball scrimmage in Las Vegas, the Pacers have never publicly closed the door on a possible return this season. Bird offered his opinion on whether he’d personally like for George to suit up this season.

“I always say if the player is ready to play, they got to play,” he said. “We’re not going to hold him back if he’s able to go out there and play 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.”

George went under the knife six months and two days from today, and is progressing well. He’s able to shoot, play some light one-on-one action, and run, although he apparently doesn’t look good doing it.

“He don’t look very good but he’s out there running around,” Bird said. “They tell me [in] seven months, that bone will be completely healed and it’s just how much further he comes after that. That’ll be in March, and we’ll go from there.”

First of all, the fact that he is doing great physically and pushing to do more and more each day is a good sign. The number one concern after impact with the basketball stanchion in the fall was whether he would be OK physically, be able to walk again, etc.

Now, fans are curious whether they’ll see the debut of No. 13 this season.

“I have no clue whether he’s going to play or not,” Bird reiterated. “If he gets healthy and they say he can play, and he wants to play, we’ll put him out there.”

While Bird’s comments are optimistic, Vogel, who says he’s a realist, continues to reiterate what he’s said all season.

“I think he’s just got to be smart,” said Vogel. “Like Larry said, if the doctors say he can go then I think he should get on the court and try as soon as he’s ready to. We all understand that’s a long time from now. Our mindset is that we’re not going to have him available this year and we got to become a great team with the group that we have.”

It seems that in another month, when he is likely cleared, that he’ll perhaps begin joining in on more of practices, including contact work. For now, it’s mostly shooting and running for the 24 year old.

George has a thin frame and thin legs, but his right calf is especially small. He’ll need to strengthen his injured right leg and get back in game shape, which is a totally different task.

“Safe to play and game shape and game rhythm are two totally different things that could add a month or two to the timeline,” Vogel added.

Then, comes perhaps the most difficult challenge: the mental hurdle. With every shot, jump, curl and sprint, how much is he thinking about his leg. What will happen after his first hard spill?

Those are all stages George needs to get past.

Watch as Bird discusses George’s recovery:

George, aware of what was said today, is having too much fun teasing fans.

We know he’s very, very eager to have basketball back in his life and to join his teammates on the floor.

George is scheduled to talk with the media on Thursday afternoon.

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