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After offseason deals, Pacers ‘all in’ for ’13 season

Offseason deals give team hope for winning title

George

– Now that Paul George has a new contract, the Indiana Pacers can focus on more pressing matters.

Training camp starts Saturday. The regular season opens in a little more than a month. The playoffs come in April, and that’s when the real challenge begins.

“We’re all in this year,” Larry Bird said.

They proved it Wednesday by officially singing George to a five-year max contract extension that guarantees him between $80 million and $90 million and could be worth even more if George reaches an escalator clause.

George’s deal comes after David West’s new three-year, $36 million contract, Bird’s offseason spending spree to improve the bench and last year’s expensive deals to keep center Roy Hibbert and point guard George Hill. The Pacers are almost certain to have their core nucleus together for several more years.

And with the Pacers coming off back-to-back playoff runs in which they pushed Miami, the expectations are soaring.

“It’s exciting,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Since I took over here, we’ve been talking about having a similar era to what the Colts had the last seven or eight years, where they had a chance to win it all basically every year. We’re a couple of years into this thing, and to have this guy under contract for five more years gives us that type of confidence, that we can win a championship, our first (NBA) championship.”

Bird gambled by paying the 23-year-old, 6-foot-7 forward before his rookie contract expired at the end of the season. If it had, he could have become a restricted free agent.

George appears to have everything it takes to become the face of Indiana’s franchise. He has improved dramatically in each of his first three years.

Last season, he was an All-Star, earned third-team All-NBA and second-team all-defense honors, and won the league’s Most Improved Player Award.

“I did a terrible job – I was supposed to have a poker face through this whole situation, but I really wanted to be here,” George said, drawing laughter. “They gave me a chance, and now that I’m in this position, it’s really my job to do everything in my position, in my will, to get us to that next step.”

The looming question for Indiana is what the Pacers will do with their next two potential free agents – former All-Star swingman Danny Granger and starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson. Both contracts are set to expire after next season.

And Bird opened the news conference by acknowledging that Stephenson, who was standing in the back, would be seated at the front table the next time they hold this sort of gathering.

“Look, the books are never right for us, but we’ll do whatever we can to keep the young man,” Bird said. “He’s worked as hard as anyone that’s ever been here, and you’ll see it when he plays this year.”

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