LAS VEGAS — Paul George’s long road back from a gruesome injury has officially begun.
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Hours after suffering an open tibia-fibula fracture in his right leg in Friday night’s Team USA showcase at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, the 24-year-old Indiana Pacers small forward underwent successful surgery at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas.
The procedure was performed by Dr. David Silverberg, Dr. Joseph Yu and Riley Williams, who is the Team USA physician as well as the lead physician for the Brooklyn Nets. No timetable was given for his recovery, but it’s clear that he’s in danger of missing the 2014-15 NBA season.
“It is way too early to speculate on his return, as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery,” Pacers team president Larry Bird said in a statement. “Our initial discussions with our doctors and the doctors in Las Vegas have us very optimistic. We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery.”.
George’s injury was felt by the entire basketball community, with his Team USA teammates clearly disturbed by what they had seen and questions instantly arising about what this all meant for the national program that has been on such a fantastic run the past nine years.
Since former Phoenix Suns owner and general manager Jerry Colangelo took over as Team USA’s managing director in 2005, star players had made it a priority to take part again. The infamous bronze medal finish in the 2004 Olympics had become a distant memory.
Yet through all those years in which players and executives quietly worried about a nightmare scenario such as this, it finally happened. There had been serious injuries during Team USA before, most recently when the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin went down during the 2012 training camp and had to undergo arthroscopic surgery as a result (he was ready in time for Clippers training camp three months later). But there has never been a setback such as this.
George, who had made a running leap while chasing down James Harden down on a fourth-quarter fastbreak when his right foot slammed against the basket stanchion and bent in such gruesome fashion, was a lock to make this Team USA squad that will begin the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain on Aug. 30.
He was coming off his best season yet for the Pacers, having played like an MVP candidate for the first half of the season and ultimately averaging 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists for the team that went 56-26 and lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
While injuries will always be part of the game, there is understandable concern around the NBA regarding the distance between the baseline and the basket stanchion in this exhibition game. The exact distance between the Thomas & Mack baseline and the stanchion is 3 feet, 11 inches, a tighter set-up than in most, if not all, NBA arenas. NBA rules stipulate that stanchions are required to be at least four feet behind the baseline for NBA games.
George – who is expected to spend the next three days in the hospital – will now begin his comeback from the devastating blow. The two-time All-Star slated to make approximately $90 million in the next five seasons, had spent much of the week-long training camp discussing the pride he took in playing for the national program.
When practices were over inside UNLV’s Mendenhall Center late in the week, his immense talent was on display during a one-on-one tournament of sorts among him, reigning MVP Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder) and James Harden (Houston Rockets) that was the highlight of the week for the hundreds who watched.
“Not only are we representing ourselves, representing our professional team, but we’re representing the USA,” George said earlier in the week. “They don’t want knuckleheads on this team. That’s not what this program was built on. And we kind of got away from, you know, having boneheads being on the USA team to where now we’ve got great guys.
“You’ve always got to be aware of the surroundings, the situation, because again, this is bigger than just basketball. We’re representing our nation.”.
From Colangelo on down, there was a visceral and emotional reaction to George’s injury within the Team USA program. Long after the game was over, a clearly rattled Kyrie Irving sat courtside with the arm of his father, Drederick, draped over his shoulders.
The Cleveland Cavaliers point guard had huddled around George with the rest of the team when the injury took place, with George being placed on the stretcher and so many of their eyes welling up before Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski would eventually announce the decision to call off the game.
After the game, several of the somber players who had planned to celebrate the end of the week’s training on the Las Vegas social scene instead headed straight for their hotel rooms.
Colangelo and Krzyzewski declined to discuss the Team USA roster ramifications afterward, but there wasn’t much to discuss as it was. The loss of George is a huge blow. Krzyzewski had planned to use him and Durant as the solutions to what was already a big-time, big-man problem. With Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trailblazers), and Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves) having already pulled out, it remains to be seen how Team USA will adjust.
The team is slated to play exhibition games in Chicago (August 16 vs. Brazil), New York (Aug. 20 vs. The Dominican Republic; Aug. 22 vs. Puerto Rico) and Gran Canaria, Spain (Aug. 26 vs. Slovenia) before FIBA begins. The roster of 20 players will be trimmed to 14 or 15 players soon, but doesn’t have to be down to the required 12 players until Aug. 29.
Meanwhile, the Pacers find themselves in the toughest of positions as well.
Having already lost shooting guard Lance Stephenson to the Charlotte Hornets in free agency, they’ll now enter the 2014-15 campaign without their best player and with the lone candidate to replace him, 30-year-old small forward Chris Copeland, coming off a season in which he averaged 6.5 minutes a game. Indiana also signed veteran guards Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles during free agency.
“Any discussion regarding the future of our team would be inappropriate at this time,” Bird also said in his statement. “Our focus is solely on Paul and doing whatever we can to help. We still support USA Basketball and believe in the NBA’s goals of exposing our game, our teams and players worldwide.
“This is an extremely unfortunate injury that occurred on a highly visible stage, but could also have occurred anytime, anywhere.”.