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When Fred Jones slipped and felt something pop in his left shoulder midway through the fourth quarter of an Indiana Pacers playoff game with Miami in May, hardly anyone noticed.
He didn't leave the game right away. Afterward, he said he wasn't worried about it. And he came back to play 22 minutes in the next game.
Little did he know.
Jones' blossoming season was never the same after that. His offseason was shot, too, forcing him into surgery and rehabilitation rather than intense work in gymnasiums around the country.
"I was really upset I couldn't do much over the summer," Jones said Thursday following the Pacers' practice at Conseco Fieldhouse. "I was planning on this being a really big summer for me."
The timing was especially bad for Jones, given the increased competition for playing time in the backcourt this season. But he is nearly 100 percent now and has resumed the shooting touch that brought dramatic improvement to his game last season.
"He's refined his shot some, even from last year," coach Rick Carlisle said. "He's a guy who's on the come. He keeps getting better."
Jones, a 6-2 guard entering his third season, struggled with his shot in limited action as a rookie, an issue that continued through the first half of last season. Something clicked, however, in the second half, and he finished as one of the Pacers' better perimeter shooters. He hit 5-of- 9 3-pointers in a first-round sweep of Boston, and was 3-of-4 from that distance in the first two games against the Heat.
The injury, which occurred when he fell and caught himself with his left hand at the defensive end, changed all that. He took only three shots in the next two games of the Heat series, missing each, and sat out the final two. He hit 1-of-8 shots in the first four games against Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals, then came back to hit 6-of-9 shots in the final two games.
Jones had surgery July 13. He spent the next six weeks with his arm in a sling, and waited another two before he resumed shooting.
So far the injury, surgery, rehabilitation and layoff appear to have done nothing to damage the confidence Jones developed last season. He will never know what he lost by not being able to work this summer and attend shooting camps. All he can do is try to catch up.
"(The injury) set me back, so I have to do more now to get it back," he said.
Jones will do this amid a more crowded backcourt. Trading Al Harrington for Stephen Jackson opened opportunity along the Pacers' front line for Jonathan Bender and Austin Croshere, but it put a squeeze on the backcourt.
Reggie Miller will start at shooting guard and Jackson will be the primary backup. That would move Jones, who averaged 18.6 minutes last season, from second to third in line. His versatility and defense, however, could save him from obscurity.
Jones played some at small forward last season, and Carlisle said he'll also use him to defend some of the league's more dangerous point guards.
"(Backup point guard Anthony Johnson) is big enough, so you can put A.J. on a shooting guard and Fred on Baron Davis or (Chauncey) Billups or one of those guys and you're still OK," Carlisle said.
"He'll find ways to get on the court; I'm pretty sure of that. He has a good feel for the game and he's very knowledgeable."
Jones said he is ready for anything. After all, last season's injury taught him not to assume too much.
"Everything is up in the air now," he said. "We'll have to see how things fall out.
"I feel like last year was a steppingstone and I'm going to keep building on that. But I'm in it for the team. Whatever helps us win I'm here for."