Paul George Targets Mid-March Return

11:12pm: The Pacers have released an official statement regarding the possibility of George returning to action in March. The team said that the decision for George to return to practice and game action remains with the Pacers’ medical staff, and the team won’t clear him to resume playing until the appropriate time.

FEBRUARY 13TH, 4:21pm: George says that he is eyeing a mid-March return to game action, Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports reports (Twitter link). The swingman hinted that he could return as early as the March 14th contest against the Celtics, Spears adds. George had previously stated that he would like to be back by March, but also acknowledged that timeframe was unlikely. If the 24-year-old is to make the March 14th target date, this would mean that George would need to start practicing with the team at the conclusion of the All-Star break, Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star tweets. This would give George approximately 12 practices to work his way into game shape, Buckner adds (Twitter link).

FEBRUARY 3RD, 12:33pm: Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird said he’s taking a win-now approach and left the door open to Paul George returning to play this season after breaking his leg over the summer, as Bird spoke with reporters today (Twitter links via the team’s official account). There have been hints about the vague notion that George would return near the end of the season from his gruesome injury, but Bird’s comments marked the first occasion that a team official went on the record about the possibility that he’ll return, according to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star (on Twitter). Still, coach Frank Vogel reiterated that he doesn’t believe George will play this season, Buckner tweets.

“If he gets healthy and they say he can play and he wants to play, we’ll let him play,” Bird said, according to the Pacers team account, pointing out that doctors told him George’s led would be healed within seven months from the injury (Twitter links). “That will be in March and we’ll go from there.”

Bird cautioned that he has “no clue” whether George will return this season, as Buckner points out in a full story, and the Hall-of-Famer is disappointed with the way his team has played even amid injuries to George and others this year, Buckner notes (Twitter link). The Pacers, who sit four and a half games out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, are seeking upgrades via trade as they attempt to make the playoffs this year, and Bird identified a shooting guard as the team’s greatest need, Buckner relays (Twitter link). Bird also indicated that he’d like add a big man, the Star scribe notes.

“We’re always looking to improve the team; there’s a lot of improvement that needs to be done,” Bird said, according to Buckner’s story. “Hopefully we can do something that makes us better. If not, we’ll stand pat and this summer do the rest of the work.”

The Pacers are gauging the value of the players on their roster as they place frequent calls to teams around the league, Bird said, according to Buckner (Twitter link). Indiana reportedly engaged in preliminary talks about Lance Stephenson, their former shooting guard, with the Hornets in December, but Pacers officials as well as current Pacers players apparently weren’t enamored with the idea of bringing him back.

A pair of key Pacers can opt for free agency this summer, and Bird said David West and Roy Hibbert hadn’t given him an indication of whether they’d exercise their player options worth $12.6MM and more than $15.5MM, respectively, Buckner tweets. Still, Bird anticipates that they’ll return, and is focused on adding youth around the team’s core this summer, as Buckner relays. (All Twitter links). The Pacers have only $36MM committed for 2015/16 against a projected $66.5MM cap, but if Hibbert and West opt in, Indiana will be on the hook for more than $64.1MM, so Bird acknowledged the direction for the offseason ahead isn’t entirely clear, Buckner points out (Twitter link).

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