As many basketball fans know by now, Paul George suffered a devastating injury, a compound leg fracture, during a Team USA exhibition game at the beginning of August. It is big news for him, his team, Team USA, and world of the NBA. Here are ten implications of his terrible injury. May he come back strong as ever.
10. Pacers’ Record
Perhaps the most obvious implication of Paul George’s injury is the hit the Indiana Pacers’ record will take. Last year, the team’s tremendous start was largely due to Paul George’s MVP-like play. PG played like a perennial first-team All Pro, lighting up opposing defenses and playing lockdown defense on opposing teams’ best players. Towards the end of the year, when the Pacers started to lose more and more games, Paul George was not playing as well, as his stats dropped down to more mundane levels. It is, then, not a stretch to say that this team starts and stops with PG. Without him in the lineup, the Pacers lose their only great scorer and their best backcourt option on offense. The team will still play physically on defense, but scoring will be a real concern.
The Pacers will also face tougher competition in the Eastern Conference next year, as the Eastern Conference was, even for its standards, unusually weak last year. Chicago has re-upped, Cleveland will be scary, Miami is not to be overlooked, and Washington keeps getting better. Indeed, the Pacers may make the playoffs, but home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA Playoffs seems unlikely.
9. East Sees Shift
Incidentally, this implication is tied closely to the last. For several years now, it has been a two-horse race in the Eastern Conference—would have been a three-horse race, if it were not for Derrick Rose’s injuries—as Miami and Indiana have battled it out for supremacy. With Paul George out, this two-horse phenomenon is no more, and the East will actually be deeper than it has been for some years.
As mentioned above, the Eastern Conference only got stronger this offseason. Aside from Chicago, Washington, Miami, and Cleveland, there are other teams that have done nothing but bolster their lineups this offseason. First, the Toronto Raptors retained the services of Kyle Lowry and Javier Vasquez. Those re-signings, along with Jonas Valanciunas’ increasing maturity, give Toronto one of the deepest teams in the East. Second, the Charlotte Hornets (thank you, Michael Jordan, for getting rid of the “Bobcats”) retained important guys and signed Lance Stephenson, the newest NBA bad boy. Third, the Atlanta Hawks are always a team that hovers around the middle of the playoff pack. Fourth, the Orlando Magic will probably surprise a lot of teams this year, as they have great young talent. And last, it would be unwise to sleep on the Brooklyn Nets, for they still have Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. With a Paul George-less Indiana Pacers, the East will definitely see a shift, one that push the Pacers out of a playoff position.
8. Decline in Team USA Participation
Player participation in offseason international events has always been a precarious thing for USA Basketball. Since the 1992 Dream Team, it seems like every year there are a host of marquee guys that choose to stay home and not participate. This year, before Paul George’s injury, Kevin Love withdrew from Team USA, citing uncertainty as to where he would be playing next year as the reason, which obliquely meant he was scared of injury.
After PG’s injury, Kevin Durant, the man famous for being a basketball nerd, withdrew from Team USA. He is currently considering an endorsement deal from Under Armor that is upwards of $200 million, so an injury would have undermined that deal. Since injuries affect a player’s earning potential, the fear of injury in the offseason, it appears, deters and will continue to deter players from playing for Team USA in the future.
Of course, the recent examples of players withdrawing—Kevin Love and Kevin Durant—should be qualified, since this year’s competition is the FIBA World Cup and not the Olympics. Nevertheless, Kevin Durant’s speedy withdrawal is telling.
7. Frank Vogel Will Be in the Hot Seat
After failing to overcome the Miami Heat for several years, the Indiana Pacers were beginning to look like terminal second-place finishers. Now, with Paul George’s injury, the Pacers look like they will have trouble even making the playoffs. If and when the team declines, Frank Vogel, the team’s head coach, will probably be fired. Such is the life of a head coach.
6. NBA Re-Evaluates Safety Measures
The NBA has done a lot in recent years to police its players and build a stronger image. As Paul George’s avoidable injury shows, however, the NBA has not done enough to protect its players on the court. Adam Silver needs to address the issue of the stanchions that support the basketball net, since they are too close to the on-court action. The NBA is probably already looking into this, so hopefully it gets done sooner rather than later.
5. Paul George’s Career will be Defined by How He Bounces Back
When an injury of this magnitude occurs, a player cannot, for obvious reasons, escape its wider impact. Especially as Paul George nears return, the media will be in a frenzy, discussing whether or not he will bounce back successfully. How he bounces back, indeed, will define his career.
4. Roy Hibbert Must Become an Elite Center
On top of Paul George’s injury, what should alarm the Pacers and their votaries is the way Roy Hibbert finished his season last year. There were games where the former Georgetown Hoya looked decidedly timid and unsure of his game. In fact, he went a couple of games in the playoffs without scoring a single bucket.
With Paul George out of the lineup and Lance Stephenson suiting up for a new team, Roy Hibbert has to bring it next season. David West is a nice compliment, but he doesn’t have the size to dominate like Hibbert. It is unlikely, though, that Hibbert will develop a potent offensive game.
3. No One in the East Can Defend LeBron
At first glance, this implication might seem like a bit of hyperbole, but it seems unlikely that LeBron will meet his match with Paul George out. Sure, Lance Stephenson guarded Lebron a great deal in the playoffs, but his vacuous trash talk only fired LeBron up. There is no big shooting guard or small forward like Paul George who can play with James in the Eastern Conference—no matchup in which LeBron and his check can go tete-a-tete. Still, as the Spurs showed, team defense trumps all.
2. Paul George Could Lose Millions
The good thing for Paul George is that he is signed with Pacers through 2019, and he will make roughly $17-18 million a year. However, an injury of this magnitude forecloses the possibility of reworking his deal to make more money—that is, max money. Moreover, he could potentially lose out on lucrative endorsement deals. As the recent news concerning Kevin Durant’s offer from Under Armor shows, these deals are becoming insane.
1. NBA Increases its Involvement with Players’ Offseason Activities
When Paul George went down in Team USA’s scrimmage, a proverbial earthquake hit the financial end of the Indiana Pacers. Indeed, the NBA is a business, and businesspeople like to protect their assets—well, for as long as those assets are earning them money. Paul George is a valuable asset that makes money for the Pacers in multiple ways—from jersey sales to attracting fans to home games. The Pacers have remunerated Paul George for his service to the franchise, and they have signed him to a multi-year deal. With Paul George out, his salary is still on the books, but the Pacers’ front office cannot reap the benefits of having PG on their team—or at least they can only to a certain and much lesser extent.
An injury like PG’s, then, will open up discourse between the owners, the NBA, and the Player’s Association as to stipulations concerning offseason activities. These discussions could lead in a few directions, of course. The NBA might begin talks with FIBA about profiting from these offseason events, so they could cash in on the celebrity of their players, their players who, especially when Team USA is involved, increase the financial success of these events, and whom the NBA has played a large part in turning into celebrities. On the other hand, the owners might fight for more control in how they structure their contracts; for instance, an owner might want to prohibit a star player from playing in offseason events like the FIBA World Cup.
To some degree, there is precedent in the latter case. Given the fleeting nature of players’ health in the NFL, the league and its owners have much more control over the players’ offseason schedules, and contracts that limit players’ exposure from offseason activities that may cause injury are not uncommon. The NFL, then, may prove to be a significant example in the financially motivated discussions that will take place in the realm of the NBA in the near future.