Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird said on Tuesday that whenever injured star Paul George is ready to play, the team won't hold him back.
Bird's meeting with reporters was his first in more than five months, and his statement was the first time a Pacers' official acknowledged George could return this season if healthy, according to The Indianapolis Star.
"I always say if the player is ready to play, he's got to play," Bird said. "We're not going to hold [George] back if he's able to go out there and play. I think it's important because when you're out like that, you lose something. He's going to get beat up, he's going to get knocked around, he's not going to look good but I still think it's important, if he's able to play, he should be out there.
George suffered an open fracture of the tibia and fibia bones in his right leg last August and has widely been expected to miss the entire season. Bird said he had been told that a full recovery for Paul would take approximately seven months. March 1 would be that seven-month anniversary.
George also seemed to reference the possibility of his return in a tweet on Tuesday.
March?!— Paul George (@Yg_Trece) February 3, 2015
After the team's practice, head coach Frank Vogel expressed more caution about George returning.
"I think you've just got to be smart," Vogel said, according to the Star. "Like Larry said, if the doctors say he can go, then I think he should get on the court and try it as soon as he's ready to, but we all understand that's a long time from now.
"Playing this year? I don't believe he's going to play this year," Vogel added. "Yeah. I don't believe he will."
The Pacers are 17-32 this season, 4.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
George, who will turn 25 in May, has averaged 21.7 points, 3.5 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game over the first four years of his career. Last season, he appeared in 80 games and averaged a career-high 21.7 points. The Pacers had been to the Eastern Conference Finals the last two years and made the playoffs the last four years before George's injury.
- Mike Fiammetta