All-Star Clippers winger Paul George called his recovery from a sprained right knee challenging but doesn’t think he’s far from a return.
George also called it frustrating that injuries to himself and fellow forward Kawhi Leonard have limited the Clippers’ championship potential over the past three seasons – but he also believes there is optimism the franchise is close to achieving its original goal .
“It’s super frustrating to put so much into the season, to put so much into this group and organization, to put so much into a team that’s competitive and has been plagued by injuries year after year,” said George Tuesday hours before Game 5 of this first round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, in his first comments to reporters in five weeks. “It’s definitely frustrating. That wasn’t why I came here, I know it wasn’t [Kawhi] came here.
“We obviously had big plans to win and do something special for the clipper nation, but I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and you just pick up the pieces and try to make the most of what you can get to make a hand . That’s how I stay positive. I am very optimistic that our time will come.”
George sprained his right knee on March 21 but avoided damaging any ligaments, leaving open the possibility of a return during the postseason. George said the injury comes with a recovery time of at least six weeks, meaning he could not return until next week at the earliest. To make it this far, the Clippers will need to recover from a 3-1 series deficit against the Suns and advance to the second round.
“If I’m feeling good after six weeks, I’ll lace them up,” George said.
Over the past two weeks, George has participated in workouts that have increased in intensity, from stationary shooting to one-on-one practice against a player development coach, but said he has yet to participate in full-contact workouts.
George said that while he may look strong for observers during his training, he was still in pain and has limitations, and acknowledged his “great concern or risk of coming back too soon”.
“It hurts not to play and watch the guys risk everything and not be able to do the same,” George said. “It’s very frustrating and it sucks. It really sucks. So we don’t plan to go into next year just yet. I think the guys still have enough to win this series and go further than this series and I will be able to join them at some point.
Leonard sprained his right knee in Game 1 of the series and has not played since the injury worsened in Game 2. George said criticism that Leonard was sitting because he didn’t want to play “assaults his character,” adding that it was “really hard” for Leonard to miss the time.
“People don’t understand that, he’s acting it out,” George said. “There must be a reason why he’s out. And he wants to be out there with us and he wants to be out there to lead.”
In September, 32-year-old George started the season noting that his “window to become a champion is shrinking.” He and Leonard then only played 38 games together during the 82-game regular season.
Despite her injury history, George said he believes he has “a lot of good years in me,” and that Leonard feels the same about his own longevity.
“We only had a short window of opportunity,” he said. “You know, we’ve seen when we’re best when everyone’s healthy and what we’re capable of. We just have, you know, again a small window of not being able to put everything together at once for a long period of time. But I think it’s enough to go forward and be very optimistic about what we can be in the years to come.”
George continued to show his support for Russell Westbrook, the veteran guard the Clippers signed in February as a complementary contribution to backing George and Leonard from the buyout market. Westbrook has averaged 15.8 points since joining the Clippers while shooting 48% overall and 35% with three points. George has prominently backed Westbrook’s signing and wants him back in the same role next season. Westbrook will be a free agent after the season.
“He’s literally giving everything he’s got to our franchise during this playoff run,” George said. “So I just think he’s the leader that we need at the point guard position going forward and would love to have him back.”