In going from the NBA’s dominant squad to puttering playoff posers in half a season, the Indiana Pacers probably stepped on cracks, broke mirrors, put their fedoras on hotel beds and any other negative superstition that applies to a scenario in which everything that can go wrong will.
The tornado of turmoil that hit Pacers Town about mid-way through last season’s championship flop hasn’t subsided, and it hit rock bottom on Friday night when All-Star baller Paul George’s 2015 NBA season came to an abrupt end before ever getting started.
George fell to the ground after jamming his leg into the bottom of the basketball stanchion at the Thomas & Mack Center during a meaningless Team USA scrimmage. George went airborne to contest a fast-break layup by James Harden with 9 minutes 33 seconds left in the fourth quarter when the foul injury occurred.
After about 10 minutes of stoppage, George was taken out of the arena on a stretcher. Coach Mike Krzyzewski then announced to the crowd that the scrimmage would not be finished.
Indeed it was a gruesome sight and amplified by numerous news outlets showing it over and over again. However, the knee-jerk reaction by some people, implying that this freak injury will make other stars not want to play on the national team or threatens the future of pro participation is absurd.
Because of George’s high standing, the injury will certainly have some impact on the NBA, the Pacers and Team USA moving forward.
George was considered a sure bet to make the 12-man roster for the World Cup of Basketball that starts later this month in Spain. The American team planned to chop the 20-player pool to 14 or 15 players Saturday but postponed those plans after the injury.
“Everything’s on hold,” said Krzyzewski, who added, “and it should be.” He continued, “It would be so inappropriate for us to talk about anything else when there’s a serious injury like this.”
The first time anything terrible happens, it’s always the worst feeling in the world; usually a huge shock and people react to it very passive-aggressively. A major injury to a superstar has never marred international play before.
For the NBA to lose one of its big Kahunas and a major marketing face is a huge deal. The NBA already lost former MVP D Rose for two seasons. Ironically, as Rose appears to be rounding back into MVP form , George, one of next season’s MVP contenders eats it Kevin Ware style in an intrasquad scrimmage. The NBA catastrophe train is in full effect. One max-money stud jumps off and another hops on.
It’s foul, but shouldn’t be that surprising. An injury of this magnitude was bound to happen eventually. Ever since the U.S. and NBA felt the Olympics were important enough to use valuable NBA talent against amateurs, the chance of one of the league’s glitter-gladiators going down with a freak injury became a real possibility.
Most people just abide by the "don’t talk about it and it won’t happen" philosophy. But it finally happened to Paul George, the 24-year old Swiss Army knife; the two-way small forward who is the centerpiece of a championship-contending team. His injury has changed the complexion of the 2014-15 NBA season and opened the flood gates even further in a wide open Eastern Conference.
Teammate Roy Hibbert’s tweets said it all: “Damn…WTF”
I mean, wasn’t this finally going to be the year Indiana went to the Finals? LeBron left the veteran-laden Heat to go ride scooters and drink Similac with the baby boomers in Cleveland. Despite guard Lance Stephenson’s departure, Indiana still had a squad of crafty veterans who have been through playoff wars. There’s no shame in coming up short to the greatest basketball player of this era. Like so many teams got “Jordan’d” —from the Knicks to the Jazz—Indiana got “LeBron’d.”
With the latest drama to hit Hoosier Town, the demise of the Pacers continues as their “championship window” slams shut, at least for a season.
A team only gets but so many chances to grab the carrot before they fall off and have to rebuild and regroup. First Danny Granger was bounced in a trade with the LA Clippers. Then Lance Stephenson blew a kiss good bye and signed with Kemba and the Bobcats. Roy Hibbert’s been a head case for a minute now and this weekend, the Pacers lost their best player to international folly. It’s unlikely that HC Frank Vogel (who stays on the hot seat, but on the low) will even survive a season without his money baller.
There are so many things to ponder. What will Indiana do? Will Team USA change its selection process? Sure it shook the players up. They are the last people who want to face their mortality. The feeling of invincibility needed to excel at an elite level quickly shatters into pieces of fear, anxiety and insecurity when an injury hits so close to home. When a shocker like this occurs, there’s no such thing as level heads prevailing. That takes time.
“We need to take a step back before we do anything at all, “said Jerry Colangelo. “Our primary concern is Paul George. This is a tough blow for not only Indian a basketball m but the Indian Pacers.” Jerry Colangelo
Under the current rules, the only time a team can stop a player from playing in international play is if there is a pre-existing injury as in Manu Ginobili’s case. Other than that, it’s totally the player’s choice and in time this unfortunate injury to George will be forgotten because the machine is always going to be bigger than one player.
The system has done a pretty good job of policing itself in regards to NBA stars participating in international exhibitions. Recruiting players for Team USA has been a hard sell at times. Players and team owners are both leery of playing in games that are meaningless to their financial agendas, but hold weight for its patriotic value.
The Pacers' initial statement Saturday morning made it clear that they are focused on George, not on why the injury happened or whether it could've been prevented.
"There is no question about the impact on our team but our goal is to be as strong-willed and determined as Paul will be in coming back," Pacers president Larry Bird said in the statement.
"Our franchise has had setbacks in its history but has demonstrated the abilities to recover. Paul will provide the example of that off the court and it is up to the rest of us to provide that example on the court. Any discussion regarding the future of our team would be inappropriate at this time. 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."
Hyperbole becomes the play for fans and media in situations like this. Some media outlets are calling George’s injury a devastating blow to the NBA.
Well, not really.
While George was on the verge of superstardom, he had not yet arrived. The NBA seemed to survive two seasons without Derrick Rose, so I’m sure it will survive one season without George, who had successful surgery at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas just hours after suffering an open tibia-fibula fracture in his right leg in Friday night's Team USA showcase.
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 George is going to be a no-show next season.
"It is way too early to speculate on his return, as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery," 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."
Throughout NBA history, star players have missed significant time due to major injuries. Some of them were freakish ones like George’s. Others were just casualties of battling within the hardwood trenches and the wear and tear of years of balling.
I don’t see much changing with how Team USA selects its squad moving forward. The Olympics have become a cash cow and the biggest athletic stage in the world. Team USA refuses to return to the days of bronze medal or no medal finishes in international play.
This is an unfortunate incident but it’s the extra burden you embrace when you re a superstar. You get paid to be a freak of nature and a fan friendly phenomenon and George’s 5-year $90-plus million deal ensures his security regardless of how he plays on the court. With that in mind, George has to look on the bright side. He’ll play again and if he is totally healed, he’ll get paid again too. No need to panic. Outside of Indiana, no one will be really thinking about George come All-Star break. We will hear stories of how he is intensely rehabbing and if Indiana finds a way to remain in playoff contention, tabloids will begin printing tales of his possible early return.
I’m sure he will be doing his celebrity rounds during his season-long rehab and don’t be surprised if he hooks up with a big time internet babe with so much down time on his hands. The strip clubs will be lit for sure. The Pacers meanwhile will remain silent on the matter, giving fans false hope of an early George return and keeping their interests and optimism peaked.
George is on the long road to recovery as we speak. No need to dwell on it. It’s just one of those things we have to chalk up to the game.