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Larry Bird: "We're not going to hold [Paul George] back"

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A 7-month prognosis. An unwillingness to hold him back. Pointing out the importance of him playing if he is able. It can all only add up to one thing. The time for tempering expectations about Paul George has apparently passed.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Just 18 short hours ago, head coach Frank Vogel said the following when asked by SiriusXM NBA Radio about the possibility of Paul George coming back this season.

"Still very, very unlikely that he plays this year."

"He's got a long road ahead."

"He is doing a little more each month and that is encouraging to see, but like we said at the beginning of the year, 'It is very unlikely that he plays this year.'"

"The focus here is on making sure he returns long-term more than trying to rush him back this year."

Though the Indiana Pacers have been plagued by inconsistent play on the court all season, they have been nothing if not the model of consistency when it comes to tempering expectations that Paul George will return this season.

Well, at least, until now.

"If he gets healthy and they say he can play and he wants to play, we'll let him play," said Pacers president Larry Bird on Tuesday.

In 26 days from now (March 1), the Blue-and-Gold's franchise star will be exactly seven months removed from the now infamous date (August 1) of his gruesome leg injury on the campus of UNLV.

"I just know he's out there running around, he doesn't look very good but he's out there running around," said Bird. "And they tell me seven months that bone will be completely healed and its just how much further he comes after that."

The team's head honcho later qualified that he has "no clue" whether the younger half of the G2 Zone's namesake will indeed be able to play this season, but the fact that he made it evident that the Pacers will not hold George back if he is ready is more than a little eye-brow raising.

After all, Indiana is currently 4.5 games outside of the playoff hunt.

Why rush George back for what at best would likely be an early playoff exit?

Why risk him potentially re-injuring himself or suffering another setback?

"I always say if a player is ready to play, they gotta play. We're not going to hold him back if he's able to go out there and play." said the Pacers president of basketball operations.

Of course, dunking in a non-contact practice session or going through shooting drills is one thing. Competing at the highest competitive level in the world... well... that is an entirely different animal.

"When you're out like that, you lose something...," Bird said during Tuesday's media availability. "I still think it's important if he's able to play, he should be out there."

Whether the month of May brings with it a trip to the playoffs or to the draft lottery, perhaps Larry Bird is right. Maybe the time is now (this season) for Paul George - if healthy - to finally start regaining all that he lost.

George is scheduled to meet with the media on Thursday.

More to come.