Paul George and Kawhi Leonard weren’t on the same team during practice Saturday but, at long last, at least they were on the same court. Doc Rivers can’t help but smirk at the sight of his stars finally aligning after George’s Clippers tenure is off to a delayed start.
“It is nice to see him on the floor today, I can tell you that,” the smiling Clippers coach said of George. “I think some guys found out that he was on the floor today, I can say that.”
George participated in live drills Saturday for the first time since undergoing two shoulder surgeries during the offseason. The first surgery in May repaired a partially torn tendon in his right shoulder and another procedure in June addressed a labrum tear in his left shoulder.
While the six-time NBA All-Star can possibly return for the team’s home game against the Toronto Raptors on Monday, Rivers said he didn’t know of a definitive plan for George’s return. George, for one, doesn’t believe he’s ready just yet.
“I still got some stuff,” he said. “From a health standpoint, I feel great. But I think with rhythm especially, with where these guys are at right now in their season, they’re flowing right now, so I just want to come in with an easy transition.”
The forward who finished third in last year’s MVP voting hasn’t played organized five-on-five games since May after his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. He participated during the entire practice Saturday without restriction, Rivers said. If anything, the staff let George push “past probably what he needed to go,” the coach said, because it’s not an issue of taking care of a rehabbed shoulder anymore.
“It’s more about the lungs,” Rivers said. “Which, to me, is the most dangerous part of returning. Whatever you have has healed, now you exert yourself and then you get hurt because you’re over the line.”
George said his wind felt good during the scrimmages, even if the sessions were not very long. He practiced with the second team and fell quickly back into the competitive swing of five-on-five play. His group “got our butts kicked” in the first one, he said. Rivers noticed the fiery look on George’s face during the second session, signaling that George was determined not to lose again.
“Lou [Williams] helped,” Rivers said with a chuckle.
George announced his return to full scrimmages by shooting the ball well, Rivers said. George, who had been practicing in limited three-on-three games, did extra work after practice with assistant coaches. He fired three-pointers from the wing, shot free throws, and attempted turnaround jumpers from the baseline. He smiled and joked with assistant coach Sam Cassell as the weight of a long rehab process started to lift.
“I’m tired of rehabbing. It sucks,” George said. “But, you know, I’m here for the long run, I’m here for the long haul.”
While he was limited to simple drills in recent practices, George enviously looked toward his teammates and soaked up the game-like atmosphere. He admired the way the Clippers played together and the chemistry that the returning players showed. He hopes to just “sprinkle” himself into the mix.
“I’m just trying to catch up to them,” George said.
The energy from the Clippers’ season-opening win over the Lakers prompted George to joke with Rivers that he was ready to suit up immediately. He joked about sneaking onto the court.
Soon enough, he won’t be joking.