With 13 games left in the season, the playoff-pushing Indiana Pacers need all the help they can get. Adding their All-Star Paul George to the starting lineup mix could work wonders on that front but it appears he’s still a ways away from a return.
“I still don’t when my return date will be…When the time is ready, I’ll be back out there,” Paul George told reporters on Monday. Surely not the determined words fans hoped to hear as the Pacers are one of five teams battling for playoff contention out east. At one point it seemed like Indiana had a guaranteed bracket in the postseason as they were playing like the league’s hottest team but they’ve since lost six-straight games. At the worst time imaginable, no less.
At 30-40, the Pacers seem to be in dire need for a player of George’s ilk to climb past the 9th-ranked Hornets, who are 30-39, and to beat out eighth-seeded Boston (31-39) and seventh-seeded Miami (32-38). No small feat as Miami and Boston are both riding upswings.
Larry Legend does expect him to return this year but the playoffs seem to place second in the team’s thinking:
“I expect him to play this year. 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. But he’s not going to be 100 percent.”
George admits that he’s still a bit from reaching the 100 percent mark: “Although I’m not 100 percent fully, I’m close to it. I feel playing will bring me closer to that 100 percentile.”
Again, not definite words, but some that point at the forward’s eventual return this season. Whether that will be little too late for Indy’s playoff chances remains to be seen. It might come down to the wire as, currently, the franchise player’s long-term health is top of the team’s concerns.
There’s certainly no point in rushing back a player of George’s skillset when the nature of injuries, length of per-game playing time, and the season’s now-criticized quantity of games are all matters of hot debate. As we’ve seen most vividly with Derrick Rose, it’s difficult to weigh a season’s success against a player’s, and so a team’s, long-term stability, especially given how small a window championship hopes are afforded. Just look at OKC.
The Pacers, without George, have proven themselves to be a gritty team with some nice complimentary weapons that could prove a pest come next season. It would be shame to waste the 2014-15 season when a playoff push is still possible but not at the cost of a full year of a healthy, and older, Paul George.
In effect, it makes most sense to just treat the end of the season as a re-training ground for the recovering star and let their loss streak remind them that the playoffs are something best left for next season.