Make no mistake about it, Paul George continues to improve in his effort to return to game action for the Pacers.
"I definitely feel like I've made great strides," George said. "Me now versus the guy two or three weeks ago, is blowing that guy out of the water."
But the improvement doesn't mean George is closing in on an actual return to the court, which he discussed with the media on Thursday afternoon.
This is no longer just about Paul George trying to return before the end of the season as a way to reacclimate to NBA game speed and jump-start his expected return to a superstar level of play next season.
The Pacers are playing too well without PG now, steamrolling their way toward a playoff appearance with a rotation that is in sync and playing at a high level on both ends of the floor.
As much as PG wants to return, and may even be able to give an added boost, you don't want to mess with success (see last season at this time).
"It's different if this was the beginning of the year and we were still trying to find our way," George said. "But these guys are playing at the top of their game right now and the last thing I want to do is slow them down."
Again, speculating on the impact of his return, assumes George will be able to return at an NBA level which continues to seem iffy, at best.
While speaking with the media, PG was wavering about when he might return and changed that "when" to "if" he may return with some of his comments. Asked directly about returning this year, PG hemmed and hawed, talking about how he feels and the different people (team, medical) who have to clear his return before saying he wants to return.
Then when Candace Buckner asked about considering just focusing on next season and not returning, George added more doubt about a return.
"That's always been the plan," George said. "It would've been a miracle, (then catching himself) I wouldn't say a miracle, but it definitely would've been ahead of schedule to come back and play this year. That was the dream. But to be on schedule was to make an appearance to start the year off next year."
When asked about where he would fit in the lineup if he did return this year, George reaffirmed his position that whatever shape he is in if he plays, it won't be the PG we saw on the court last season.
"I'm coming back to get my feet wet, just to come back to the game," George said. "And these guys are gearing up to make a run in the playoffs. It's hard to make that jump and transition into this part of the season."
So George isn't expecting to return in a big role, spot minutes and working in where he can at the end of the season will be a big step. If he can handle that and then contribute the same in the playoffs, then we'll really have something to talk about.
But it was apparent from George's comments and body language today, there is still a ways to go physically and mentally before that can happen.