During the dog days of winter, Paul George appeared tired and worn out. Back then, he was leading the Indiana Pacers in total minutes played while attempting to reacquaint himself with the rigors of an 82-game season. Recall that on January 15, he had to exit the game during the fourth-quarter against the Washington Wizards due to tightness behind his right knee. Four games later in Sacramento, he was seen having his legs stretched by the team's athletic trainer, later telling the Indy Star's Candace Buckner that he "took a couple blows" to his left leg and it started to "swell up" and "get tight."
It was this situation, punctuated by an extended shooting slump, which likely prompted George to be non-committal about his future with Team USA.
"I definitely would want to be there regardless but it's just about with this year and how everything's been going and how my body's been feeling," George told Buckner. "I don't know if it's smart to keep playing, so we'll see. I'll just listen to my body after this year."
Now, a few weeks removed from logging a stellar two-way performance against the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs and fresh off a European vacation, the three-time All-Star's body appears to be telling him that all signals are go.
George explained his recent change of heart in an interview with ESPN's Cari Champion:
"I was just hesitant on the simple fact that, the past couple years has obviously been tough for me -- just felt like I didn't have enough time to myself, and time to recover, and you know, give my body a rest. I didn't want to jump out of a season, jump right into the Olympics. But I think I kind of said that too prematurely.
"I didn't give myself enough time to really think it through. I think since I've been off, my body's telling me yes, my mind is telling me yes, people around me are telling me yes. So I feel good about it. And, you know ... I want to give it a shot."
After suffering an open tibia-fibula fracture during a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage on the campus of UNLV in August of 2014, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski guaranteed Indiana's star a highly coveted spot on the team's 12-man roster.
"We thought it's the right thing to do," Colangelo told NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper. "That's it.... We didn't give thought to all the detail. Just that when a guy goes down and all these things, the circumstances, his career passes before him, he's out for a year, a year-plus, he's not able to participate now with us — we wanted to throw that out and say, ‘We're counting on you. You've got a spot in '16.' "
Granted free of stipulations, USA Basketball's brass has to be pleased not only with George's comeback but with how he came back.
George, who a season ago appeared in only six games, played in 81 of 82 games this season and was one of only four players to log over 195 total miles (and the only one getting it done on a surgically repaired leg). He was also one of only two players in the league to average at least 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and 1.5 steals. All of which resulted in him earning his third All-Star selection and being named to the All-NBA Third Team as well as the All-NBA Defensive Second Team.
As his accolades indicate, the possibility of re-injuring himself did not prevent the two-way star from returning to form with the Indiana Pacers this season; and, now, it won't stop him from rejoining Team USA.
"I won't let injury (stop me)," George told the Indy Star back in January, "injury is a part of the game. The last thing I'll do is let that keep me from making the dream happen. No hard feelings towards none of the situation."
Seeing Paul George don the Red, White and Blue this summer in Rio de Janeiro will likely spook fans of the Blue & Gold more than it does him. But his decision to do so is reflective of the overarching mindset which helped transform Paul George, unknown prospect, into Paul George, franchise player.
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Cari Champion's interview with Paul George is set to air Monday during the noon hour of SportsCenter.