Having suffered an open tibia-fibula fracture in August, Paul George has likely endured his fair share of days replete with physical pain as well as pangs of doubt regarding his slow-going recovery.
"Am I actually getting better?" He, at times, may have questioned internally.
Only months removed from surgery, he already appears ready to move on, "I've pretty much passed all the negative days."
Having repeatedly seen footage of him attempting set shots as he plays "Around the World" with his teammates after practice, George, the player with the silky shooting touch and months ago equally capable as both a lock-down defender and highlight maker, spoke with the media today for the first time since August 15. With his rehabilitation regiment "going smoothly," it was clear that the two-time All-Star has chosen to rise from the pain of loss rather than wallow in it:
"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. Coming back there will be a lot more passion for it and just a lot of love for this game, and I think that will show the second that I'm back on the court."
While his return to being an actual basketball player remains a steadfast light at the end of the tunnel, the isolation of rehab remains an everyday reality. From working on strengthening his upper body to running on a treadmill in a pool to, supposedly in the next week, advancing to light jogging (envision David Benner in a full sprint, joked the former MVP candidate) and eventually building toward actually doing work on the court, it is clear that the Pacers' franchise star still has a long journey ahead of him.
Unable to travel or physically be out on the court with the team, George has looked for other ways to contribute and feel a part. Whether it be watching games and taking notes from a coach's perspective, pushing George Hill in his rehab, talking with Roy Hibbert about how the team looks, encouraging Solomon Hill to look for his shot, or lightheartedly serving as David Benner's PR Intern, the hobbled star has been forced to transition from player to mentor for a team that he describes as "competing" in such a way that he "can't be more proud."
In his absence, an unlikely group of mostly third-stringers currently sits as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference standings. With David West and C.J. Watson out at least until the game against San Antonio (Nov. 26), George Hill expected to miss the entire month of November, and C.J. Miles day-to-day, the Pacers' replacements are rising to the challenge and exceeding expectations with their collective effort and intensity.
Forced to watch the growth of his teammates develop in his stead, Paul George briefly pulled back the curtain to his outward positivity as he shared the most challenging aspect of his rehab:
"Not being able to do what I'm here to do, and that's to play basketball. That's the toughest thing, to be forced to sit out and just watch and spectate."
Now coming to a deeper appreciation of what he has temporarily lost and will one day forever lose, the former MVP candidate, only half-joking, added, "I feel sorry for when I'm 50 and 60 years old."
For the type of player George is and the warrior mentality he appears to possess (at least in the public-eye), this inward look at the mental obstacles injured players face was for only but a moment, as he soon after went on to compliment his teammates for figuring out ways to win and noted, with regard to his own status, "You have to think of the positives in it."
To the unrelenting optimist's credit, there are many reasons for Paul to see the glass as half full. Whether it be adding upper body strength, better safe-guarding his health for the future, or simply finding ways to be more effective once he is actually able to play, the Pacers' franchise star is improving his mental and physical approach to the game, while the Pacers, as a whole, are attempting to sustain and further cultivate a winning culture.
With the "negative days" in his rear view mirror, there is little reason to question his ability to come back at one-hundred percent or better. "I would never have that doubt," said George. "...when that time comes and my number is called and I'm ready to go, there will be no doubt in my mind that I will come back better."
Paul George is moving forward, and with the right amount of luck and preparation his growth will show, as he says, the "second" that he is "back on the court."