Bird Says Door is Cracked Open for George's Return

So you're saying there's a chance?

Yes, Larry Bird is saying that – a chance that Paul George, who broke his right leg with a horrific-looking injury on Aug. 1 will return to play for the Pacers this season.

Bird met with the media Tuesday morning for a general question-and-answer period in a Bankers Life Fieldhouse hallway, and let it drop that George might be able to play in a month or so.

“I want to win and make the playoffs,” Bird said when asked if he's still in a win-now mode regarding transactions. “Hopefully down the road we'll see where Paul's at. We still have no idea whether he's coming back or not, but every week it seems like he's getting better and better. If we do have an opportunity to get in the playoffs, he can get some games under his belt and get ready to go next year.”

That answer, naturally, inspired more questions. George has been practicing with the Pacers in a limited capacity, mostly shooting and participating in a few non-contract drills. He also shoots on the court before games, lifting the hope among the fans at games. He moves gracefully, is in good spirits and shows no effects of the injury.

He has expressed hope that he can play this season, and Bird is all for it if there is no risk to George's future.

“I think it's important,” Bird said. “If the player's ready to play, they have to play. We're not going to hold him back if he's able to go out there and play. 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 if he's able to play he should be out there.”

Bird's statements were a bit of a departure from his pre-season comments, which were far less optimistic about George's return. Bird made it clear he's not predicting a return, just allowing for the possibility.

“I have no idea,” Bird said. “I just know he's out there running around. He don't look very good, but he's out there running around. They tell me in seven months that bone will be completely healed. That will be in March, and we'll go from there. I have no clue whether he'll play or not, but if he gets healthy and they say he can play and he wants to play, we'll put him out there.”

George will meet with the media on Thursday.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel, meanwhile, was slightly less optimistic than Bird, stating, “I don't believe he's going to play this year.”

Vogel knows what he's in for. As March 1 approaches, he's sure to get more questions about George's status. He doesn't look forward to giving daily updates on how his best player looked in practice.

Vogel said, however, that George remains hopeful.

“He wants to try to see if he can play this year, but he's realistic as well,” Vogel said. “Look, he wants to play today. Every great athlete wants to play right away. But he knows he's not close. If you asked him what the best-case scenario would be, yeah, this thing heals, my rehab goes faster than scheduled, then I might get back on the court. But is that reasonable? Probably not. We'll see how it goes. But he definitely wants to play.”

David West also said George has expressed hope of playing this season, but wasn't encouraging him either way.

“That's on Paul,” West said. “He's young, and he's got to be healthy. He's just working himself back in.”

Bird also commented on other matters:

On his opinion of the team's play to date. “I'm a little disappointed in how we've been playing. I thought we would come together as a group a lot sooner than we have. With the injuries, guys are in and out, but still there's a lot of opportunity for other players to step up and get an opportunity to play and play well. Some have at different times, but it hasn't been consistent.

"They're really good when they share the ball and move the ball. I've seen some games this year where in spurts they move the ball as good as you can possibly move it. When they don't, they get isolated, they pound the ball, they dribble too much and on the defensive end … I go to practice every day and I know what they should be doing on the defensive end. When you get into the games, I know who's messing up and a lot of times it's guys who have been with us for a long period of time.”

On his opinion of his roster as the NBA trade deadline approaches on Feb. 19. “We're always looking to improve the team and obviously there's a lot of improvement to be done. So we'll look around the league and talk to a lot of people and see what's out there. Hopefully we can do something that makes us better. If not, we'll stay pat and this summer do the rest of the work.”

On his primary area of concern. “Obviously the two-guard spot is our biggest concern right now. Solomon Hill's been in there … he's young but he's got a ways to go. You always want bigs. You need a little bit of everything.”

On Roy Hibbert's play. “He's been up and down. He hasn't been as consistent as I thought he would when the year started, especially with Paul out. If he gets the ball in his position he's going to score. It's just when he gets out of the post and hangs out on the side he struggles.”

On his hope for the remainder of this season. “I think with George Hill coming back that's really going to help us. I hope they stay together and play together and get as many wins as they possibly can.”

Bird also said he doesn't know the plans of Hibbert and David West, who can opt out of their contracts after this season. That matter will be up to the players and their agents, and Bird's opinion of it will depend on how how this season turns out.

“Right now we're anticipating them being here,” Bird said.

West said he hasn't given it much thought.

“I wait until it's upon me before I start thinking about stuff like that,” he said.

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