Indiana Pacers guard Paul George admitted he wasn’t pretending that his trip to New York City on All-Star weekend was everything he wanted it to be. If he hadn’t snapped his right leg on a stanchion during a Team USA scrimmage last summer, he “probably would’ve been playing,“ as he put it. It’s been a turbulent past 18 months for George. His breakout year went bust when the Pacers lost momentum and chemistry under the burning media spotlight. He made Team USA then broke his leg and Hoosiers’ hearts.
Promoting his new line of New Era caps at the 40/40 Club in New York City days before the All-Star game, George did reveal some good news: He could return to the NBA as soon as next month. The Pacers have not made any official statements regarding his return, but George is itching to come back and his doctors are saying that maybe, just maybe, it could happen.
George spoke about trying to win at physical therapy, getting advice from Kobe and, yes, the playoffs.
How close are you to coming back?
I obviously want to be back as soon as possible, but I know that’s not ideal.
According to whom?
Myself. I don’t think I'm at a point where I need to make the comeback right now. I'm not all the way back where I want to be, some of the steps I have to take and get to for my own confidence. But I think my team is almost waiting for that day. I think they want it just as much as I want it.
I feel like I complete this team. I feel like they feel like I'm the missing link, the piece of the puzzle that they’re waiting to be sent.
The team is not that far out of playoff contention.
We’re not that far. We’ve shown games where we have excellence and we’ve shown games where we’ve struggled tremendously. But again, seeing them beat teams like Cleveland, Miami - on their floor - it shows that this team can be a serious contender.
If this team is in contention without you, would you come back?
If I could get a couple regular season games under my belt, I will say, ‘I can come back.’
What has been the most challenging part of the rehab for you?
It’s tough maintaining your body, maintaining staying healthy, staying in shape when you’re not 100 percent. That's been the toughest part because as much as you’ve got to rehabilitate your injury, you have to maintain strength throughout your whole body. Simply said: It’s additional work. So that’s been the toughest thing. And, being an athlete, not being able to do what you love to do, takes its toll as well.
And the emotional toll has to be wrapped up in the experience of playing on a team.
I was taking most of the hit for us not succeeding and playing well. So all of that was an up and down rollercoaster. Then losing guys, not knowing what we were going to do during the summer, me being hurt—it all - it was all tough. I don’t even know the words to put it.
It derailed a lot of momentum you guys had generated.
It did. Almost everything that we built up being the number one team, having one of the best records, it was almost wiped away. The media was looking at us as if we were a joke because we couldn’t finish considering how well we started. And then have to deal with personalities on the team. Some guys weren’t able to deal with everything that was going on, all the speculations around us.”
Was it hard to see Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert struggling as well?
It was tough for everyone. Everyone had a card in that hand that was just difficult to overcome. I was dealing with things. Lance was dealing with things: George, Roy—our whole starting five. Our bench was a unit of its own that was dealing with things. I think collectively we all had stress that was building up.
During your rehab, is there someone that you’ve leaned on for advice or relieve stress?
I talked to Kobe. Kobe was one of the guys that reached out and really was like, he gave me that welcoming, if I needed anything, any advice.
Anything in particular he said that stuck with you?
One of the biggest things was: ‘You’ll have good days and you’ll have bad days. That’s something that you have to be aware of.’ That's probably the best advice I received. Because, on the days when I was feeling bad, I was prepared for it. I was told some days are going to be rougher than others. So the days I wasn’t feeling the greatest, in the back of my mind I was like, ‘OK, I was warned about this. So how can I make this day better?’
That was my whole mentality on the whole rehabilitation.
Photos by Jonathan Bachman/AP Images for Rebuilding Together