Indiana Pacers All Star forward Paul George suffered a grotesque leg injury while participating in the “Blue-White” USA Basketball team scrimmage on Friday. The injury, too gruesome for most to look at (in good conscience I could not post the picture here) could not come at a worse time for George and his Pacers team; changing the competitive landscape in the NBA and potentially halting the skyrocketing ascension of George into an elite NBA star.
Paul George himself was growing into a legitimate NBA superstar; both skill wise as we’ll as physically. George ranked 12th in the NBA in scoring, tallying 21.7 points per game. In addition to improving his game each of our seasons, he also grew two inches since being drafted in 2010. This is a rare occurrence where an athlete will experience such a growth spurt upon becoming a professional, but his increased length and development of muscle on his 6-9 frame, metamorphosing the player into an unstoppable offensive and defensive force. Had it not been for LeBron James, the Pacers could have been the one coming off of consecutive NBA Finals appearances instead of Eastern Conference runners-up.
For Indiana, the loss of George, very probable to be for the entire season comes at a time when the franchise was positioned to capitalize on the Miami Heat’s decline. After losing the title to San Antonio in June, the Heat lost the services of All-World superstar LeBron James after “King James” decided to return to his Ohio throne. Pacers president Larry Bird must now contend without his best player as well as overcome the loss of guard Lance Stephenson, who departed to Charlotte as a free agent. At time when George was struggling or not on the floor, it was Stephenson that would pick up the slack. The void created is not just offensively but equally on the defensive end of the court. Both George and Stephenson were instrumental in defensive roles against the conference’s best players (LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony). Who Indiana turns to now on either end is anyone’s guess.
Now that the Pacers, considered to be the heir apparent to Eastern Conference supremacy, now join a group of hopeful contenders that could capitalize on Indiana’s misfortune. The Chicago Bulls, with Derrick Rose returning from injury and the James-led Cavaliers are now poised to scene the standings and play in June for the title. In particular, Cleveland May have become the best team in the East regardless of the George injury; with the team expected to acquire forward Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Ironically, it is the aforementioned Love who decided to forgo the Team USA activities in order to prevent injury, facilitating a likely trade. There will be many that criticize the decision to participate in such activities, especially when a player has such a lucrative career in the NBA. For those that want to be critical, consider this; if you asked the players about the opportunity to wear a basketball jersey emblazoned with “USA” across the chest, most would jump at the chance to represent their country doing something they love.
One must also consider that an injury of this nature could have easily happened during un-sanctioned off-season workouts, something most players do to maintain their conditioning. The injury itself was freak in nature, as George’s foot became stuck in the basket stansion defending a fast break.
Whether the injury will permanently derail his career is not yet known. There are cases where such an injury has significantly impacted a professional athlete’s career; the most notable being Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann in a 1985 Monday Night Football game against the New York Giants. On a positive side, Louisville Cardinals guard Kevin Ware suffered a similar leg injury and has returned to action.
Paul George has relied on his quickness and athleticism in becoming an NBA star. As much as he was a great player, he is also regarded as a truly genuine person. It’s far too early to tell what the future holds for him on the basketball court; but the immediate reaction by players and coaches around the league is a clear indication that everyone in the league hopes for a full and speedy recovery.