Mar 7, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) shoots the ball over Houston Rockets power forward Terrence Jones (6) during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports
Teams typically build around a nucleus of one or two star players. The Indiana Pacers debatably held a franchise player in Paul George. While George and the Pacers tailed off in the end of the 2013-14 season, he is still at this point the best player in a Pacers uniform.
Or, he was. George sustained a horrific leg injury every bit as disturbing as Kevin Ware’s two seasons ago for the Louisville Cardinals.
The difference here, of course, is that George is an All-Star in the NBA. And he’s a player banked on heavily by the Pacers, even more so since the team allowed Lance Stephenson to walk as a free agent.
George may not be on the level of a LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but not every team is that fortunate. At the team’s best, the Pacers were a force defensively, and a team that had to be considered in contention, especially in the Eastern Conference.
With George’s injury, this all changes. Subtracted from the Pacers lineup will be 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Moreover, George’s contract extension will pay him $13.7 million next season and $14.7 million in 2015-16.
The Pacers have a lot resting on George’s rehab. The Chicago Bulls have been patient with Derrick Rose, and it’s looking as though it will be rewarded by Rose’s clearly evident progress in Team USA scrimmages. Because of those very games, George will battle to save his career.
He maintained his positivity. George tweeted:
Thanks everybody for the love and support.. I’ll be ok and be back better than ever!!! Love y’all!! #YoungTrece
— Paul George (@Paul_George24) August 2, 2014
There is no other mindset that can be taken here, but the cold reality of brutal injuries descends upon the basketball world again. It’s a relentless reaper that robs the brightest and best of long careers, and we’re hoping this isn’t the case with George. Blake Griffin sustained a back fracture already in Team USA play, and one has to wonder if the injuries may leave teams even more hesitant to allow their talent to play in International competition and practices.
Either way, that is a matter for another day. George’s injury looms as a dark cloud on the NBA world, because the Pacers most certainly fall from Eastern Conference contenders to a fringe playoff/lottery team. The Pacers lack its starting 2-guard and 3-man from last year’s team, and there really isn’t anyone to fill that void. Danny Granger is long departed, a shell of his former self, too (and another case of a player who was an All-Star and then an injured has-been).
Everyone is rooting for George. He had a tough year last year with rumors and scandals plaguing his season, and this is the biggest thorn in his side. If he has the resolve, he can come back from this. Louisville’s Kevin Ware returned to college hoops the next season, after an injury so horrendous it made us all re-think playing hoops. Nerlens Noel suffered a horrible broken leg and eventually made it back in just under two seasons. It, too, was cringe-inducing.
It’s not impossible to make the ascent; it’s just going to be a long, difficult road.