Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo initially ruled out a return for the NBA restart in Orlando, Florida, but the two-time All-Star now says there is a “strong possibility” that could change, though he remains undecided.
“It was hard for me to assess where I was at from the long layover, and obviously [with the coronavirus], couldn’t really control that,” Oladipo told reporters during Wednesday’s Zoom availability. “But now, coming down here and getting some practices in, getting my feet under me, going out there playing with the guys, there’s a possibility that I could play.”
Oladipo first planned to travel with the team to Orlando while continuing rehab on his quadriceps tendon, but now his “body’s feeling good,” with no restrictions from coach Nate McMillan during practices. He’s trying to give it a go.
“I’m just reassessing myself and my body every day. I think people fail to realize that this injury that I have is very unique,” he said. “No one of my stature, of my ability, has ever had this injury before, so there’s no one else that I have to look up to or could reassess from, so I’m learning and growing as the days and weeks go on, just like you guys are, but no one understands or knows what I feel or what I’m going through internally or what my body feels like. I know what I’m capable of. I know what standard I have to get to. I know how my body needs to feel in order to perform at the level that I’m capable of performing, because if I don’t do that, well, then everybody’s going to write about how I didn’t play at that great level or how I didn’t look good.”
Even before traveling to Orlando, the Pacers included him on their travel party list as they worked through his options.
President of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard and GM Chad Buchanan have publicly supported Oladipo, saying the decision was his to make and giving him no set deadline, despite multiple sources confirming to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that there in an unresolved situation regarding $3 million in salary.
The union feels he should be paid his remaining salary, while the league believes he should not be, according to Windhorst. Either way, Oladipo says returning to basketball is his main focus, not the money.
“I don’t know. That’s out of my control, I don’t have any control of that. Honestly, to be real, I didn’t even know the amount, what goes into it, I’m just focused on my knee,” Oladipo said. “I’m not really concerned about anything I can’t control. It’s out of my control. Other people handle that, I guess, whatever the case is, but I just want to play basketball, plain and simple. And I want to make sure my knee is at it’s best ability and I’m at my best ability when I go out there to perform at a high level.”
When the news first leaked of Oladipo’s initial decision to sit out for the restart, McMillan says he found out through the media just like everyone else. Oladipo admits he made the decision prematurely because he didn’t feel he was capable of playing at that point.
Still, it was his call, and everyone respected it, but the Pacers still included him in basketball activities.
“He is playing with all three teams. We are involving him,” McMillan said Sunday. “We are not approaching it as if he’s not playing. We are putting him out there. There are no restrictions for Vic. He’s been going hard. … He’s been going hard. The entire time that he was off and now we have the opportunity to put him in 5-on-5, all of our guys in 5-on-5, there are no restrictions on how we are using him. He’s involved in all of the practices and he’s going hard.”
Domantas Sabonis also saw it as a positive to have Oladipo in practices as he mulled his decision. There will be no further discussions on whether he’ll start or come off the bench until he makes a decision. “Having him around completes the team. We’re a full roster,” Sabonis said. “He’s another body we can go at, he’s an elite player. So he’s just making us better at the same time, so it’s great having him there.” Still, as much as he wants to play, Oladipo is putting his mental and physical health first. The plan was always to come to Orlando, test things out through game-like situations and then make the best choice for not only now but years down the road.
“It’s been a tough couple years, obviously, and I’m just trying to be smart because I want to play the next 10 years,” Oladipo said.
The Pacers are willing to pay his salary whether or not he plays for the remainder of this shortened season, sources told Windhorst. So there’s no real financial pressure either way.
“These people have been amazing since the day I put on this jersey. It’s no surprise that they back me and they support me,” Oladipo said. “It’s an amazing organization, amazing people. So I’m just thankful that they’ve got my back. That’s not necessarily a given thing when you’re in a situation like I am, so I just want to let them know that I appreciate that for sure.”