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George Certain Of Comeback, But Not Timeline

Pain has given way to soreness.

Uncertainty has given way to conviction.

Walking will soon give way to jogging.

Quite literally one step at a time, Paul George is working his way back from a devastating leg injury. He no longer doubts he’ll return to 100 percent, although the timeline remains uncertain.

“I’m completely confident that we’re going down the right path,” he said Friday, “and when that time comes and my number’s called and I’m ready to go, there’ll be no doubt in my mind I’ll come back better.”

Speaking to the mainstream media for the first time since mid-August, George said he has running in a treadmill pool and that next week he plans to begin “real limited” on-court activity including light jogging. He has been able to shoot around after practice for a few weeks, but still has many checkpoints to pass before a return could be considered.

“It’s a goal, for sure, to be able to have the opportunity to play this year, especially alongside the group of guys we’ve got,” George said. “I feel very confident with the guys that are in the jersey or out of the jersey right now. We have a good team and that’s one of my goals.

“I would love to come back and make a return and help this team out any way I can down the line but right now it’s about getting healthy and making sure I’m good for the future.”

Don’t be deceived by those videos showing George looking spry in post-practice shooting contests, though. There are still plenty of checkpoints to pass before the timeline for a return to the court can be established.

“It’s really a big unknown and it’s going to be up to the doctors to see where he’s at as he starts increasing activity,” said coach Frank Vogel. “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 that it’s very unlikely he’s going to play this year.”

George was just the first injury domino to fall on the Pacers. They’re also without David West (ankle), George Hill (knee), C.J. Miles (calf) and C.J. Watson (foot). But West and Watson both were able to participate in portions of this week’s practices. Vogel said West will miss the next three games but could be back late next week, with Watson a little further behind. Hill isn’t expected back till mid-December. Miles is day-to-day.

Despite the absence of so many key players, the Pacers (5-7) have won three of their last four, including road victories last week in Miami and Chicago, to give rise to hopes they could contend for a playoff spot when their starters return – even if George isn’t among them.

“I think they’ve been great,” George said. “They’ve showed a lot. They’re a little inexperienced but that’s what these games are for, so those guys to be thrown into the fire and figure out ways to win. The greatest thing about this group is coach has still kept that tough-minded basketball. They’re going to make a great push once those guys come back. …

“They’re competing. These guys aren’t caught up with who’s in the jersey and who’s out the jersey, they’re still going out and representing and you can’t be more proud of that. They’ve been pretty much written off as a team that’s not going to succeed this year and I think they’re definitely exceeding expectations right now.”

Even so, watching the games from the sideline – George has worn the credential of a public relations intern at home games – has been the most painful part of this process. He’s trying to take what positives he can from the passive role, talking regularly with younger players, particularly Solomon Hill, to give advice and bolster confidence. He has become more of a student of the game, viewing it from a completely different perspective.

But that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

“Not being able to do what I’m here to do, and that’s play basketball, that’s the toughest thing, to sit out and just watch, spectate,” he said. “I feel sorry for when I’m 50 or 60 years old because it’s tough to watch. It’s just hard sometimes mentally to stay in it and be aware of what’s going on. …

“You’ve got to think of the positive in it. I get a chance to sit back, watch the game from a different perspective, get to learn a lot, lift, work out. There’s a lot of positives. Although I want to be out there and help the guys, I still feel I’m contributing by being in their ears, talking with Solo, even the new guys here, Damo (Rudez), Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, still being part of our locker room. It’s helped me not feel as bad and as frustrated not being out there.”

George said he has experienced no  physical setbacks in his rehab and has battled through some of the darkest mental times, as well.

“I think I’ve pretty much passed all the negative days,” he said. “I’ve dealt with the days when I’ve been sore and having the thoughts of ‘Am I getting better or not?’ I’ve pretty much passed all those days. Once the trainers told me soreness is expected, it’s pretty much what we want, I’ve been pretty much at ease about that.”

This is a long, arduous comeback trail, and the only way it can be navigated is one step at a time. Now walking comfortably, soon he will jog. Maybe in a few weeks after that, he’ll be able to run.

After that?

“At that point it’ll be about cutting,” he said, “and becoming a basketball player again.”

That he is not one now admittedly frustrates George, but he is handling it. He can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but at least he’s on the tracks.

“When you lose something like basketball, which is everything to me, I feel like I took a lot of things for granted in this game,” he said. “And coming back, it’ll be a lot more passion, a lot of love for this game. I think that’ll show the second I’m back on the court.”

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