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The NBA, A-through-Z: Larry Bird

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Larry Bird and Kevin Pritchard sit, and judge (Getty Images)

The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.

And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.

This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.

We continue with Larry Bird.

Even before the 2013 NBA offseason officially hit, word around the league was that the Indiana Pacers and free agent forward David West were on a collision course to put together a contract worth the three-years and $36 million he eventually signed for. Beyond that, though, the team was in a rough spot due to its small market finances, pitiful bench depth, and impending 2014 contract extension negotiations with their impressive young swingman, Paul George. It’s true that the Pacers had taken Miami to the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference finals, but even given internal development and the potential to trade Danny Granger’s expiring contract, how could Indiana just about guarantee a return showing to the first week of June?

Somehow, Larry Bird fixed everything in barely a month’s time. Bird had been hanging around the Pacers throughout the playoffs, but he wasn’t officially made president of basketball operations until the day before the NBA draft. Following a year off, and a mini-overhaul of the team’s bench from front office veterans Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard, Bird managed to spring into possibly his best summer as a team executive, giving the Pacers a fearsome 10-man rotation while still flying well below the luxury tax, all without utilizing his top trade chip in Danny Granger.

It’s a remarkable turnaround, all done with names that are less than notable to the average NBA fan. NBA diehards are no doubt well aware of Luis Scola’s offensive gifts, or Chris Copeland’s ability to spread the floor while remaining a dribble-drive threat, but your still-catching-on Indianapolis Colts-obsessed fan might be a little late to the game. He or she may not understand what a wonderful luxury it could be to have either Granger or Lance Stephenson coming off the bench. May not get what a huge upgrade it will be to hand reserve minutes to C.J. Watson, instead of D.J. Augustin.

In short order Bird has rid the Pacers of all the contributors he didn’t quite care for, players like Augustin and Gerald Green. Forwards Jeff Pendergraph and Tyler Hansbrough were brought to Indiana under Bird’s initial reign, but their limitations obviously displeased the Hall of Famer, as he barely lifted a finger to compete with San Antonio and Toronto for the former free agents’ services. And while it’s true that Scola and Copeland share Bird’s legendary aversion to foot speed on defense, their issues on that end won’t mean a whole heck of a lot to the team that far and away ranked tops defensively last year, with center Roy Hibbert sending daily reminders of his offseason workout routine on Twitter.

All moves, even the ones that come highly-praised, have a chance to fall flat on their face. Watson could fall apart in crucial moments, age could catch up with Scola, and expectations could hit Copeland the wrong way. George still has plenty of things to work on regarding his offensive game, there still isn’t a pure passing point guard in this bunch, and even with this newfound depth a poorly-timed injury could send things pear-shaped.

The lucky bounce here, and the thing fans have to remember, is that those half-empty prognostications are hitting in the months after the Indiana Pacer bench gave the team absolutely nothing on its way to working just a game away from the NBA Finals. Things couldn’t have gone any worse for that bench last year, and they still were just a few points away.

All without losing Granger. All while leaving themselves room to pay George a massive deal next summer. All while Miami has to amnesty Mike Miller to save money, with the Bulls, Nets, and Knicks still figuring things out on the fly. Bird took a team with no cap room, payroll and market worries, and little in the way of trading assets outside of Granger, and shored up its biggest weakness.

And Bird’s front office did this in a month!

Welcome back, Larry. I guess merely three rounds of playoff basketball just isn’t good enough for you.

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