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Paul George's health should be our only concern

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Now's not the time to talk about the implications of Paul George's gruesome injury. Now's the time to feel sympathy for Paul George.

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Paul George didn't need to chase down James Harden. The scrimmage was meaningless except to entertain the fans that decided to come out to the Thomas & Mack Center. The two stars were virtual locks to make Team USA's final roster and play together in the starting lineup. Coach Mike Krzyzewski wasn't going to change that if George pulled up.

Yet George hustled it anyway because that's the culture Team USA is building. They play as if nothing is given and everything is earned. Cliche as it sounds, that's how George approached the breakaway. Harden's dunk would not be given. It needed to be earned. That's what every grade-school coach preaches to his players.

And for his efforts, George's entire career flashed before his eyes thanks to a stanchion that is far closer to the court than a normal NBA one.

Now is not the time, however tempting, to talk about what George's horrific leg injury means for anyone but Paul George. It's not the time to ask about what it means for Team USA, whether it dooms the Pacers' chances in a suddenly-competitive East or whether it adds more ammunition for owners to hold their star players out of international competitions. There's plenty of time for those conversations. For now, this only matters to George, a rising star that did so much to get himself to this level and now sees his dream and his career flash before his eyes because he chose to hustle in what was otherwise a meaningless Team USA scrimmage.

We don't know the extent of the injury yet other than that it's clearly serious. It harkens back to the devastating moment that forever altered Shaun Livingston's career in 2007. Livingston was the man with the ball that time, but the situation was the same. A super athlete flying down the court at full speed was slightly bumped off his path, causing a horrible landing. Livingston ultimately tore his ACL, PCL and lateral meniscus while also dislocating his patella tendon. It was as bad an injury as one could have.

Livingston is now a valuable role player armed with a new three-year contract. Thus, he's optimistic that George can recover.

But Livingston took years to recover. He missed the rest of the 2007 season, sat for all of 2008, couldn't make it back in 2009 and only resurfaced when the Wizards gave him a last chance in 2010. Then, he toiled anonymously for the Bucks, Bobcats, Wizards again and Cavaliers before resurfacing as a key role player in Brooklyn last season. That earned him a mid-level deal with the Warriors, where he'll back up Stephen Curry.

That recovery time would be horrible for George. He came into his own during the first half of last season, flashing a significantly improved pick-and-roll game while leading the Pacers to the top of the league. His rapid rise from small-town recruit to NBA superstar wasn't stopping. A few months before, he went toe to toe with LeBron James and nearly knocked out the two-time champions. The first year of a five-year maximum contract, the sure bet that every franchise makes on special players, awaited him.

It's too early to speculate on the nature of his injury, but it's not too early to wonder if his entire career is now in doubt. Even the optimistic case assumes a long rehab that may or may not repair the leg to what it once was. Louisville's Kevin Ware, who suffered a similarly-horrible compound fracture in his leg in March, was on the court by November, but he wasn't the same and eventually redshirted to rehab further. If George follows Ware's path, he'll return sometime in the middle of next season, be a shell of himself and need even more time to fully recover. And that's the best-case scenario.

George overcame incredible odds to even get to this point. As a teenager in tiny Palmdale, Calif., the future all-NBA forward played at his YMCA in jean shorts. He was good enough to be a role player on his AAU team alongside the more highly-touted Jrue Holiday, but major colleges didn't recruit him heavily enough, forcing him to go to Fresno State. NBA scouts find you everywhere, and George was found. He rose up draft boards before the Pacers selected him No. 10 in 2010. But nobody, not even the Pacers, could have predicted he'd become the kind of foundational player that'd lead the franchise for the duration of his prime.

All of that is now on hold because Paul George decided to hustle. There's airtime to fill and a lot of questions to eventually consider, but they can all wait.


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