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Haley’s passing has McIlvaine shaken, recommitted


VIDEO: Remembering Jack Haley

Jim McIlvaine never much worried about his body or the toll his NBA career was taking on it. When the 7-foot-1 center from Racine, Wis., walked away from the league in 2001 after seven seasons with Washington, Seattle and New Jersey, it was a decision driven by his heart, not for his heart.

But Jack Haley‘s unexpected death Tuesday at age 51, reportedly from heart disease, as the latest in a series of recent NBA alums who have passed away, had McIlvaine feeling unusually mortal. And blogging about it, one way he spends his time when not working as a broadcast analyst for Marquette University basketball or with Optima Batteries in Milwaukee.

It wasn’t long ago that McIlvaine ran into Haley, the journeyman who played nine seasons with the Bulls, Nets, Lakers and Spurs, on the Las Vegas Strip:

What I do remember is that Jack looked great. He looked fit, he looked happy and during our conversation, it sounded like everything was going well for him. That was just a few months ago. Fast forward to this evening and I noticed a tweet from Detlef Schrempf in my feed, mentioning Jack’s passing. It seems like just the other day I was blogging about the passing of Jerome Kersey and now I find myself asking the same questions- How could it happen? Why Jack? Why now?

McIlvaine turned his distress over Haley’s passing — along with others such as Kersey, Anthony Mason, Dwayne Schintzius, Yinka Dare and a few more —  into a mirror to assess his own post-NBA retirement days. His verdict? Not horrible but not great either.

I know people die young all over the world for a multitude of reasons, but I guess I don’t expect it to happen so often among guys who were some of the world’s elite athletes. I’ve put on some weight since retiring, but 20 pounds is easy to hide on a seven-foot frame. The greater concern for me is my heart. While I had what I would consider an “active” lifestyle for most of my life, in recent years, I’ve become more sedentary. That, combined with some advice from my doctor several years ago, has heightened my awareness for my physical well-being.

I was actually working out with Marquette, when I went in for a physical and was told my cholesterol level was higher than my doctor would’ve liked. She encouraged me to exercise more and I thought to myself, “How much more can I exercise, than chasing around a bunch of college kids?!”

McIlvaine took up triathlons and got so heavy into biking that he required hemorrhoid surgery. It hit him how difficult it is, with a body battered by years of pounding and general basketball demands, to maintain a level of activity like typical 30- and 40-somethings.

With Jack’s passing, it got me thinking about the first time the retired NBA players held their annual summer meeting in conjunction with the current NBA players. It was an eye-opening experience for me and one that I felt gave me an opportunity to look into my own future as a retired player, at least from a physical standpoint. There were guys at that meeting in their 50s (and maybe even 40s), who were hobbling around like they were in their 70s or 80s. I didn’t want that for myself and decided I wouldn’t continue playing until my body would no longer allow it. I know I’m not alone in that regard and when I see guys like [NFL 49ers linebacker] Chris Borland walk away from professional sports, I’m only surprised that it doesn’t [occur] more often.

Adding Jack’s passing to the growing list has made me re-evaluate how I’ve dealt with moderately-high cholesterol in much the same way I did when I first met the retired NBA players. Up until now, I’ve preferred to make dietary adjustments, pop red yeast rice tablets and try to exercise more. The first two efforts have gone well and made a significant difference, but I never seem to find enough time to exercise consistently. I’ll be making a renewed commitment to exercise more, but perhaps more importantly, I’ll be calling my doctor tomorrow for the Lipitor perscription she’d previously-suggested.

McIlvaine, 42, is nine years younger than Haley. He left the NBA at a much younger age (28) than Haley (34), as much for how poorly it fit him psychologically as for any physical toll. At 7-foot-1, he just happened to stand eyeball-to-eyeball with Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and the league’s other big boppers; that didn’t mean he enjoyed it.

Between the rigors of the league and the hypercriticism he faced over a then-staggering seven-year, $33 million contract he got from the Sonics in 1996, McIlvaine lost his taste for the NBA.

But he hasn’t lost his zest for life in general and Haley’s passing, along with the others, has prompted him to do something about it.

Daylight in Rondo-Carlisle relationship


VIDEO: Rondo talks with media after Friday’s victory

When last we left Rajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle, at least on a national headline-grabbing scale, the former was lipping off to his coach and the latter was firing back, prompting their boss, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, to suspend the mercurial point guard for a game.

But after Dallas’ home rout of the Los Angeles Clippers Friday, Rondo and Carlisle were making nice – much nicer – in comments that ought to be encouraging to fans hoping for a postseason run that’s more long than short.

It’s been nearly three months now since the Mavericks acquired Rondo from Boston on Dec. 18, enough time that Carlisle seems more willing to flip the keys of the offense to the point guard. Here’s how Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com chronicled it:

“He’s really developed a good sense for our team — when to just push it, when to get into something,” Carlisle said. “He really understands the guys that he’s playing with.”

Rondo had been attempting behind the scenes to get more leeway to call plays before his blowup with Carlisle, which occurred after the point guard ignored a play call from the bench, prompting the coach to call a timeout and shout across the floor at Rondo. They both later attributed the disagreement to poor communication.

Rondo said he has been gradually given more responsibility to call plays since returning from his suspension and felt especially comfortable in the role Friday night, when he guided the Mavs to their highest-scoring outing of his stint with the team.

“The trust is becoming more and more better between Coach and I,” Rondo said. “It’s tough to give a guy the keys to the car when he first gets there.

“Tonight, we were on the same page a lot. We talked before the game, as far as the play calling that we wanted to stick with. We were very locked in this morning during the shootaround, and it carried over into the game.”

Carlisle had a similar power struggle, minus the public fireworks, with point guard Jason Kidd during their first season working together in Dallas. Carlisle relinquished most of the play-calling responsibilities to Kidd midway through the 2008-09 season, and they won a title together two seasons later.

More perspective on Rondo and his, er, challenging personality was provided by Doc Rivers, the Clippers coach in Dallas on Friday, as well as Rondo chum Glenn Davis. Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote about that:

From Rivers’ standpoint, there’s a fine line a coach must walk with Rondo.

“Rondo is strong-willed, but he’s a good kid, and I think people get that mixed up,” Rivers said. “He’s got an amazing amount of passion, and he is a ssssmmmaaarrrttt player. I mean, smart. So that stuff happens.”

Clippers forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis said it’s clear that Rondo is simply misunderstood.

“I think Rick Carlisle has to know Rondo, and he just doesn’t know Rondo,” said Davis, who was Rondo’s teammate in Boston from 2007-11. “Rondo is the type of player, you know you want him to do this, you want him to do that, and he’ll make sure it gets done. You’ve just got to tell him what his options are out there, because he’s sort of like a quarterback.”

Statistically, Rondo still is a mess as a piece of the Mavericks’ offense. He’s shooting 41 percent at a time when the league average field-goal percentage is 44.8 percent. So cool it with any Bob Cousy references – it’s true that the Hall of Fame point guard made 37.5 percent of his shots in his career and never topped 39.7 percent. But the league average only cracked 40 percent in Cousy’s final four seasons.

Cousy also took nearly twice as many shots as Rondo – 17.8 per game vs. 9.7 – and averaged 18.4 points to Rondo’s 10.7. The Celtics’ first great point guard hit 80.3 percent of his free throws, too, compared to that team’s most recent great point guard and his ridiculous 31.7 percent this season, which makes him avoid trips to the line entirely.

Still, if Rondo and Carlisle can see eye-to-eye on the rest of the offense, good things might be in store. When Dallas beat Miami for the 2011 championship, Kidd averaged 7.9 points on 36.1 percent shooting (while hitting 87 percent of his free throws).

Bosh shows Whiteside how it’s done


Video: Whiteside ejected after hit on Olynyk

There was a welcome sighting, and an unnecessary sighting, in American Airlines Arena involving a pair of Heat players at important junctions in their careers.

Chris Bosh made his first public appearance Monday since undergoing surgery last month to remove blood clots on his lung. He said he won’t resume normal basketball duties until the fall. Bosh held a pregame news conference first, then took the microphone before the Heat-Celtics tip and expressed thanks for all the well-wishes, almost choking up in the process. Bosh received an ovation, then spent the rest of the game on the Heat bench.

There, he watched Hassan Whiteside deliver an unprovoked cheap shot at Kelly Olynyk, which earned an easy ejection. A suspension is almost sure to follow for Whiteside, who rammed Olynyk from behind and sent the Celtics forward flying into the court-side photographers, dazed and certainly confused. What the heck?

“I don’t even know what happened,” said Olynyk.

Whiteside has been a pleasant revelation this season for the Heat, coming from basketball oblivion to collect double-doubles almost nightly and become the big man’s version of Linsanity. Still, he has plenty to learn about the game and being a professional. Just last week he was involved in a scuffle with Alex Len. Now this. While the Len incident was simply two centers rubbing each other the wrong way, and ended with Whiteside tackling Len to the ground, Olynyk did nothing to warrant an elbow to the back of the head, and could have been injured on the play.

“We’ll handle it and it will be corrected,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Everybody’s responsible to the team.”

Whiteside would do well to emulate one of the more upstanding players in basketball. The grace shown by Bosh, not only Monday but throughout his career, is the right example to follow. There’s no need to resort to being a knucklehead, not with his future, which seems bright. Better to be like Bosh.

Something new for old Tim Duncan


VIDEO: Parker scores season-high 32 as Spurs race past Bulls

Well, if you stick around the game long enough, anything is bound to happen. It did Sunday for Tim Duncan.

The future Hall of Famer, perhaps the best power forward ever, didn’t hit a basket in the Spurs’ win over the Bulls. Yep, that’s right. Zippo. Oh-for-eight, to be exact. So, for the first time in 1,311 games, you scored as many baskets as Duncan.

Of course, not that Duncan cared much. Actually, by game’s end, he was too busy smiling at the sight of Tony Parker finally coming through with a monster game (a season-high 32 points) which is far more important to the Spurs, since Parker had struggled since recovering from a bad hammy. And the Spurs did win the game, keeping them in seventh place in the West and (for now) avoiding the dreaded eighth spot and a potential first-round matchup with the Warriors (we’d rather see Russell Westbrook vs. Steph Curry anyway).

Duncan scored three points, which says plenty about the Spurs, that they could beat a quality team like Chicago mainly on smart point guard play and balanced scoring and solid defense. Truth be told, the Spurs haven’t leaned heavily on Duncan over the last few years, at least until the playoffs.

With a few minutes left in the game, Duncan was nailed to the bench, not because he went without a hoop, but because the Spurs were comfortably ahead and the reserves were doing a fine job. And he was smiling. Which means he probably wasn’t even aware he went without a basket, nor cared.

Bucks retire Dandridge’s No. 10

VIDEO: Bucks retire Dandridge’s jersey

Bobby Dandridge was part of an NBA “Big Three” before anyone called them that.

And he did it twice.

Early in his career of 12-plus pro seasons, Dandridge was a lithe scoring threat at small forward for a Milwaukee Bucks team built around Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. Nine years in, he joined a Washington Bullets front line that was anchored by Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld.

Dandridge – whose jersey No. 10 was to be retired Saturday night by the Bucks during a halftime ceremony of their game vs. Washington at the BMO Harris Bradley Center – was an integral part of those teams that went to a total of four NBA Finals, winning titles in 1971 (Bucks) and 1978 (Bullets).

The outsized reputations and achievement of the terrific tandem with whom he teamed at each stop might make Dandridge, by comparison, seem strictly part of the supporting cast. But the 6-foot-6 product of Norfolk State and 45th player picked in the 1969 Draft earned four All-Star selections from 1973 to 1979, averaged 18.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 839 games and was even better in the postseason (20.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.7 rebounds in 98 appearances).

“I think Bobby was more significant than a role player,” Jon McGlocklin, a guard on the ’71 and ’74 NBA Finals teams and a longtime analyst on the Bucks’ broadcast crew, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Bobby could do everything. He was as good defensively as he was offensively.”

McGlocklin remembered Dandridge as a great locker-room guy, helping to keep the team loose by teasing the other players (“everybody except Oscar”). He also provided material for the Bucks’ creative play-by-play announcer, Eddie Doucette. Dandridge’s jump shot, which he often released on the way down, was dubbed the “pancake jumper,” while he himself was called “The Greyhound” by Doucette.

Dandridge didn’t like the nickname then and still doesn’t. But he told the paper Friday: “That had to do with speed and quickness and endurance. I was a superbly conditioned guy even though I was 6-5, about 175 pounds. I was fortunate to come to a team like Milwaukee that was looking for quickness.”

Arriving in Washington in 1977, Dandridge joined a team seeking a match-up for scoring stars such as Julius Erving and George Gervin, whose teams (Philadelphia and San Antonio) the Bullets had to beat en route to their 1978 championship vs. Seattle.

“Bobby came in, he knew the offense, he had already won a championship, he was experienced,” Washington coach Dick Motta said a few years ago for a story on that team. “It was always nice when we had Bobby Dandridge and we were going to play Dr. J or George Gervin. He basically neutralized all of the small forwards in the league.”

Dandridge, 67, spent four seasons with the Bullets before returning to Milwaukee for 1981-82. He made some headlines with the unusual free-agent contract he signed there; having played in just 68 games his final two seasons in Washington, he agreed to a Bucks deal that paid him a base salary of $40,000 plus per-game rates of $2,750 if he suited up and played vs. just $275 if he wasn’t available that night. It sounds like a contract that would be illegal under current CBA rules and it didn’t last long back then; Dandridge was waived in late November.

Here’s another little-known factoid about Dandridge: He’s the one who suggested that NBA newcomers could use some help navigating the league. That idea led to the league’s rookie transition program, which enables young players to go to school on their predecessor’s experiences.

Dandridge, who worked for a while with the NBA players’ association, told the Virginian Pilot in June 2013: “I consider that to be as great a contribution to the NBA as my basketball playing days.”

Dandridge was expected to be joined at Saturday’s ceremony by his wife, Debra; daughters Shana, 39, and Morgan, 21, and son Sivad, 36.

He becomes the eighth Bucks player to have his number retired. Those who preceded him: Robertson (1), Junior Bridgeman (2), Sidney Moncrief (4), McGlocklin (14), Bob Lanier (16), Brian Winters (32) and Abdul-Jabbar (33). He wore No. 10 in Washington too, but that subsequently was retired in honor of Earl Monroe.

Ray Allen won’t play this season, considers comeback in 2015-16

All those teams that imagined Ray Allen as a catch-and-shoot threat in the corner, adding a late-season, potentially game-changing acquisition just in time for the playoffs, well, they and their fans can go back to daydreaming about Powerball and MegaMillions.

Ray gone. For now, anyway.

Allen announced Wednesday afternoon that he would not play in the NBA this season but that he would consider the possibility of returning for 2015-16. The news came via Allen’s representatives at Tandem Sports+ Entertainment, so no “Reports:” disclaimer or anonymous sources are necessary.

“Over the past several months, I have taken a lot of time to deliberate what is best for me,” Allen said in the news release. “I’ve ultimately decided that I will not play this NBA season. I’m going to take the remainder of this season, as well as the upcoming offseason, to reassess my situation, spend time with my family and determine if I will play in the 2015-16 season.”

That last part might be reworded as: “…see what sort of crazy free-agent offer some needy team makes to bring me back.”

Allen will turn 40 in July. As recently as three seasons ago, he ranked fourth in 3-point shooting (45.3 percent) and eighth in true shooting (60.7 percent) and he was the NBA’s fifth-most accurate foul shooter in 2012-13 (88.6 percent).

He’s always had the work habits of a monk and, especially since altering his diet in recent seasons, the body fat of a greyhound. But stepping back into the NBA after a year’s layoff, at Allen’s age, would be the sort of thing only Wilt Chamberlain or Karl Malone ever pondered. Allen has been healthier by far than Steve Nash, a Class of 1997 draftmate, and Nash – still on the fringes of the Lakers while they pay him what’s left of his $9.7 million this season – broke down last season after 15 games with a bad back.

As for performance, Allen averaged 9.6 points and 26.5 minutes for Miami last season, helping the Heat to their second straight NBA Finals with him aboard. He made 37.5 percent of his 3-point attempts in the regular season and 38.8 percent in 20 playoff games.

But the 10-time All-Star from UConn, who also played for Milwaukee, Seattle and Boston, had a modest 12.8 player efficiency rating (PER) both in the regular season and playoffs. Taking a career high 56.9 percent of his shots from 3-point range meant he shot a career-low 2.2 free throws, pro-rated to 36 minutes per game.

In a league in which every GM and coach is looking for an edge, interest in luring back Allen this season was high. “Ray has received enormous interest from a number of NBA teams throughout this season,” agent Jim Tanner said. “We will communicate with interested teams as Ray makes a decision for the 2015-16 season.”

Suns’ brass fires back at Dragic

dragic

Goran Dragic was traded to the Heat on Thursday for players and two first-round picks. (NBAE via Getty Images)

Goran Dragic said what he felt and got what he wanted. The Phoenix Suns reacted Thursday and responded Friday.

One day after Dragic, the Suns point guard who sprung his discontent on the team and on the NBA in the days and hours leading up to the league’s trade deadline, the Phoenix brass fired back. Dragic said he was unhappy and felt he no longer could trust the Suns’ front office? Well, the front office characterized Dragic as selfish and overrating his value within the team’s pecking order. Moving him to Miami served Phoenix’s needs just fine, they said.

President of basketball operations Lon Babby, in particular, wasn’t pleased by a couple of “aspersions” tossed the team’s way. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic was there to chronicle Babby’s and GM Ryan McDonough‘s comments:

Babby said he took personal offense to Dragic’s Wednesday comment that he did not trust the organization, characterizing his statements as “unfair and unwarranted.” Dragic had been upset that the Suns brought in two more starting-caliber point guards, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, since he returned to the team in 2012 and that he became primarily a wing player because of their additions.

“If some of those moves ruffle Goran’s feathers, so be it,” Babby said.

Babby said the Suns, including Managing Partner Robert Sarver, tried to reach out to Dragic several weeks ago to gauge his concerns and views on his future with Phoenix but did not get a response until Tuesday, when they were no longer surprised and already had [newly acquired Bucks guard Brandon] Knight in mind. McDonough said the Suns never received a list of preferred destinations and did not care if there was one because of how Dragic and his agents handled the situation.

After hearing fans and media comment that the Suns traded their best player (Dragic), McDonough said Friday, “Our response to that, I think, is that Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris are still in Phoenix Suns uniforms.”

Dragic did give a little context via Twitter to his caustic remarks, and did nothing to quell suspicions that he said what he did to leverage his way out of town:

Lawson Absence Doesn’t Fly With Shaw

VIDEO: Suddenly, Ty Lawson’s name has come up in the latest trade rumors

Note to new National Basketball Players Association vice president LeBron James: Maybe it’s time to extend the All-Star break.

Again.

It seems nine days wasn’t enough for point guard Ty Lawson to get away and return in time for the Nuggets first post-All-Star practice on Wednesday.

Could it have anything to do with the Nuggets’ place in the lower half of the Western Conference standings? Or could it be that Lawson is unhappy to hear his name come up in trade talks as the Thursday 3 p.m. ET deadline approaches.

Needless to say, coach Brian Shaw was unhappy with the unexcused absence, according to Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post:

“We had a week off or nine days between games, and you expect everybody to be here,” Shaw said. “It disrupts the planning of everything, in terms of you count on somebody in practice. But he’s not here so we had to go without him.”

Lawson failing to show is the latest in a string of incidents that have upset management in the past two years. He had a domestic incident in the summer of 2013, a case that was eventually dropped. He missed a team breakfast meeting late last season and was held out of the starting lineup. In January he was arrested on suspicion of DUI.

Lawson is the Nuggets’ best player, their most productive player, but he has trouble throughout his career staying on the right track. Shaw didn’t know Lawson wasn’t in the building until the players reported to the practice court and Lawson failed to show. He had not contacted the team telling them he would be a no-show.

“When we had the coaches meetings this morning, all of the other guys came in and did their shooting,” Shaw said. “And we (the coaches) came up right at the start of practice at 11 o’clock and that was the first that I noticed that he wasn’t there.”

The Nuggets play at Milwaukee on Friday night.

Robertson applauds players union for adding James’ clout as VP

NEW YORK – The adversaries that get drawn in bold strokes in any NBA collective bargaining negotiations (and too often, subsequent lockout coverage) are the owners vs. the players. The commissioner – now Adam Silver, before that David Stern – vs. the head of the union. Michele Roberts has that title now as the NBPA’s executive director now, filling the job previously held by Billy Hunter.

But there’s an underlying tension, too, between the stars of the NBA and its so-called working or middle-class players. They are the league’s role players. They are the guys who typically make up The Other Nine on teams fortunate enough to have A Big Three. They are the league’s “82.7 percent” if you want to go by the percentage of NBA players who makes less than $8 million, about 372 of approximately 450.

About two-thirds of the league’s performers are paid less than $5 million, and according to ESPN.com data, nearly 40 percent (173) draw salaries between $1 million and $4 million. That means, in a union set-up, the vast rank-and-file has the votes. When push has come to shove in recent collective-bargaining agreement talks, middle-class issues from salary maximums to mid-level exceptions have been served, generally at the superstars’ expense.

But there is a place for star power. The NBPA showed that in its unanimous vote of player reps Friday to add LeBron James to the union’s executive committee, moving into the position opened when Roger Mason Jr. retired to take an NBPA management role.

And Oscar Robertson, an authority on star power in sports labor relations, concurred. Robertson – the game’s legendary “Big O,” worthy of any NBA Mount Rushmore as the game’s all-time triple-double threat – spoke Saturday about his nine years as union president. Fifty years ago this summer, after the Maurice Stokes benefit game at Kuthser’s Resort in the Catskills, Robertson was courted by retiring NBPA president Tom Heinsohn, Jack Twyman and union director Larry Fleisher to take over as president.

Robertson provided the sort of high profile leadership that James, teaming with current NBPA president Chris Paul, can offer when the next CBA talks ramp up toward 2017. He shared with ESPN.com his experience and his perspective on James’ impact:

“I think it’s wonderful, the stars need to lead by example,” Robertson said on Saturday. “There’s so much to be done in the next few years.”

Robertson believes that James can leverage his position as the league’s signature star in ways he could not 40 years ago and that is why having him and Paul as the face of the union could be valuable.

“It’s not a risk for LeBron because he’s a star; there’s nothing they can do to LeBron,” Robertson said. “You have to be successful and then you can put yourself in that position. Times have changed, there is nothing the owners can do. Years ago, owners didn’t want players in (union leadership), they tried to trade you or get rid of you and get you out of the league. They’ll deny that but it was true.”

Robertson put his name on the lawsuit in which the union successfully challenged the reserve clause, leading to free agency in the NBA much as Curt Flood‘s fight paved the way in baseball. The Cincinnati and Milwaukee star guard felt he paid a price after his playing days, losing out on broadcasting, coaching or executive positions out of NBA owners’ resentment.

But in recent years, Robertson felt the game’s stars weren’t doing enough of the union’s work, leaving the decisions and public-relations goodwill to players with lower profiles.

“LeBron can get instant access to the media and the fans,” Robertson said. “In this day and age, it isn’t always what you do behind closed doors. Sometimes it’s public and getting the mass of people behind you. I’m sure he can do that.”

Pacers’ George aims to practice March 1


VIDEO: George discusses his potential return this season

Larry Bird cracked open the door Tuesday on injured All-Star Paul George returning to action for the Indiana Pacers this season, but 48 hours later, George didn’t exactly barge through it.

George sounded more tentative than irrationally exuberant about the prospect of playing late in this 2014-15 season and (if the Pacers qualify) the playoffs when he spoke with media in Indianapolis Thursday. That might reflect a sense of mortality George could be feeling after the gruesome leg fractures he suffered Aug. 1 in a Team USA scrimmage or he could be parroting much of the medical and Pacers’ front-office advice he’s been hearing over the past six months.

Or maybe he’s been on the phone during his hiatus with Derrick Rose.

From what George said, he and the Pacers are hopeful he can start practicing full speed with his teammates by March 1, the target date for his open tibia-fibula fractures to be healed. Beyond that, how his body reacts and Indiana’s position in the standings likely will determine his return to games. The Indianapolis Star reported on George’s measured approach:

George said he’s uncertain if he will be able to play this season, but he wants to.

“Ideally, that’s a great time where I want to be back. Obviously I’m a long shot away from it,” George said. “I’ve got so many steps to get to that point but looking forward that’s (March) when I want to be back.”

George said he has participated in 3-on-3 half-court drills, but hasn’t played in a full scrimmage, and has not taken part in contact drills.

“I don’t want to come back too soon and be out there and have a chance to re-injure … I want it to be fully right,” he said.

At 18-32, Indiana is 12th in the Eastern Conference, 3.5 games behind No. 8 Miami for the East’s final playoff berth. Bird and others in the organization have had their eyes on the postseason throughout, even after George’s injury and Lance Stephenson‘s departure in free agency. The Pacers were considered a championship contender the past two season and have made four consecutive playoff appearances, after a four-year drought. Prior to 2006-07, the team had qualified in 16 of 17 seasons.

Whether a return even for just one round is feasible might swing on George’s return. But Bird and Pacers ownership might tip their hands before that, with the NBA trade deadline set for Feb. 19. For instance, if Indiana were to move veteran forward David West, who has attracted interest from contenders, or another rotation player, it might signal a shift in the franchise’s focus to 2015-16.