LOS ANGELES — Eventually, Paul George’s ritual became a running joke. Occasionally, George performed his habit in secret.
As he remained confined to non-contact drills while healing his surgically repaired left and right shoulders, George often mused he would join his Los Angeles Clippers teammates in a scrimmage. Coach Doc Rivers often noticed George sneaking in for a possession after turning his back. This became a constant theme for a simple reason.
"I’m tired of rehabbing," George said. "It sucks."
George will not have to rehab much longer. Rivers considered it a "possibility" that George makes his Clippers debut on Monday against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center. Even if Rivers still harbored doubts about that timeline, the Clippers still expect George to return soon. Perhaps that happens when they play in Houston (Wednesday) or New Orleans (Thursday).
That uncertainty pales to the frustration George weathered after having offseason surgery on both shoulders shortly after the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Even when he became frustrated enough with a lengthy rehab to want to sneak onto the court, however, George continuously reminded himself about the value of staying patient.
Paul George getting shots up after his first live practice pic.twitter.com/yIkVahClJ1
"I’m here for the long run and here for the long haul. I know what the big picture is," George said. "Obviously it’s for my own good that I wasn’t in those things early."
George has gleaned that perspective in three ways.
One, George already has dealt with a debilitating injury. He fractured his right leg during an intrasquad scrimmage with Team USA before the 2014 FIBA World Championships. That injury kept George out for all but the final eight games of the 2014-15 NBA season with the Indiana Pacers.
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"I’m used to being in this rehab stage and knowing what it takes to get my body prepared," George said. "It’s a long process. But with me going through it and having a drastic injury in my leg, I know what to expect. I know what pressure to put on myself and what pressure not to put on myself."
Secondly, George has otherwise enjoyed living near his Palmdale hometown with close family and friends. He has experienced a much more pleasant climate than what he became used to in Indiana (2010-17) and Oklahoma City (2017-19).
"Walking outside and it’s 70 or 80 degrees, I haven’t been used to that in a very long time," George said. "So it’s amazing. The weather is amazing. I can go to the beach and take my kids out."
Doc Rivers pleased with Paul George’s shooting and conditioning in live practice. But Doc Rivers said he doesn’t know yet what Paul’s schedule will be this week pic.twitter.com/rastkGdr3G
Lastly, George has a proven he can adapt his game. He eventually became the Pacers' go-to scorer through his first seven NBA seasons. He then averaged a career-high 28 points last season in Oklahoma City even while sharing a workload with a ball-dominant Russell Westbrook. It would appear the Clippers should automatically improve by adding a six-time All-Star, a career 37.8% 3-point shooter and a four-time member of the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.
"I take pride in being on the court and being a ballplayer," George said. "Instincts take over. I’m not really defining myself by my position. I just love to hoop and love to play the game."
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No wonder then that George treated his first "live action" during Saturday’s practice with the same infectious energy as if he were opening a birthday present.
Rivers noted that George became upset his team lost in the first scrimmage. That contributed to the Clippers’ reserves winning in the second matchup. George became intent on guarding Kawhi Leonard whenever possible. When the Clippers had trouble running sets that Rivers had designed for him, George demonstrated how to execute them correctly. Rivers observed that George’s "basketball IQ is extremely high on both ends."
Doc Rivers said “it’s a possibility” Paul George returns on Monday vs Toronto pic.twitter.com/tsMJV1RuX1
"It was probably a good lesson for coaches, too, because the guy who runs their play knows their play," Rivers said. "All of a sudden, he’s starting to do it and then the guy on the other team starts doing it because he actually saw the guy do it at real speed. So those are the things that he helps."
George will help in plenty of other ways, too.
With the Clippers ranked 20th in 3-point shooting (33.8%), George will likely improve those numbers and give his teammates some added floor spacing. Rivers plans to start George and Leonard interchangeably at small forward and power forward, while keeping options open with having a small or big lineup. Hence, the Clippers envisioned George fitting in seamlessly with Leonard.
"The only thing you can do is just play. It’s hard to do it any other way," Leonard said. "You have to go out and play, make mistakes and have great communication."
That might take some time for George and the Clippers to figure out. They anticipate some adjustments with his conditioning, fitting on a new roster and a new playbook. Not too long, though.
That pales to the length George spent rehabbing his shoulders. This time, George will not need to feel tempted to sneak onto the court.
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