Paul George still hopes to return this season

Two-time All-Star's rehab for a broken right leg has him starting to jog. He reiterates playing this NBA season is the goal, although Pacers cautiously remind it's 'very unlikely.'

The baseline 3-pointer swishes the net. The second one, too. And a third.

Paul George can shoot. A rod to stabilize two bones in his lower right leg doesn’t affect the two-time All-Star’s ability to hit shots after a Friday practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

He eventually walks to a padded corner beyond the court, reporters close in four deep, and George reiterates his hope to be able to return this season to help the Indiana Pacers.

It’s one of his goals, he says. Some would suggest that's unrealistic, considering the gruesome manner in which he shattered that leg on a basketball stanchion Aug. 1 in Las Vegas.

“I would love to come back, make a return and help this team out in any way I can down the line,” George said, “but right now it’s about getting healthy and making sure I’m good for the future.”

Coach Frank Vogel reiterate’s the team’s position, the sensible summation that it’s “very unlikely” George will be able to meet that goal of returning this season.

If Vogel could be cited as leaving that door cracked open maybe just an inch, it’s when he says, “It’s really a big unknown.”

Because athletes’ bodies have been known to heal differently from serious injuries. Some make remarkable recoveries, but that’s rare, hence why they’re remarkable. Some return inside a realistic timetable, which for George would seem like next season, or about 14 months after his injury.

Of course, it’s up to what the doctors say about how George’s leg responds to this lengthy, tedious rehabilitation.

“He hasn’t really done any real activity,” Vogel said, “other than walking around and shooting around. It’s still a long ways away.”

George is just 24, so age is on his side in getting that young leg to mend. He averaged a career-high 21.7 points in his fourth NBA season as well as 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. As much as the Pacers would love to have that production in the lineup, they can’t get their hopes up because there’s also the possibility that he might never be the same player.

George is doing rehabilitation in a pool and on a treadmill. He hits the weights. He can jog at the easiest of paces, or as he jokes, about as fast as forward David West is able to sprint, “which is the lightest jog you can get.”

He envisions his share of West-like jogs for about two weeks in the near future. Then hopefully he’ll be able to start running.

“For the most part, it’s been no pain,” George said. Just soreness at times, which is to be expected.

In the meantime, he watches his teammates and tries to learn so he will one day be a better player.

“It’s just learning,” he said, “watching it from a coaching perspective and even a fan perspective, areas where I see myself later down the line, areas where I can improve and operate from. You just learn so much from just watching the game.”

And he looks forward to after practices, when he can join the guys for shoot-arounds. The sound of hitting that net, if nothing else, signifies hope.

Swish, swish, swish.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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