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Offseason work not finished for Bird

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Larry Bird answers questions from the media during a news conference June 27 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Larry Bird answers questions from the media during a news conference June 27 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

So far, Larry Bird has delivered on all his promises.

But he might not be finished.

Despite a recent flurry of free-agent activity, the Indiana Pacers’ president has hinted the process of shoring up assorted weaknesses might not be over.

More signings, and possibly a trade or two, remain viable possibilities for a franchise that came agonizingly close to reaching last month’s NBA Finals.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Bird, who returned to the front office three weeks ago after a one-year hiatus. “I want to try to get our bench as strong as we possibly can.

“That’s our No. 1 goal.”

Within days of returning to work, Bird accomplished his primary objective of re-signing unrestricted free agent David West. He then went about the near-equally important business of addressing the bench.

Within the past week, the Pacers have signed two free agents — point guard C.J. Watson and forward Chris Copeland — to strengthen a backup unit that largely disappointed last season. The process actually began with the selection of Arizona’s Solomon Hill in the first round of the NBA Draft.

Bird insists Hill, who shined during the recent Summer League in Orlando, Fla., can contribute immediately. Veterans Watson and Copeland are no doubt expected to.

What remains to be seen is if the bench makeover is complete, or if bolder strokes await.

If the Pacers are finished, the new rotation would incorporate Watson and Copeland, and possibly Hill, with the anticipation of improvement from within the roster, particularly from players like Gerald Green, Ian Mahinmi, Orlando Johnson and Miles Plumlee. Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph have been lost to free agency, and free-agent point guard D.J. Augustin isn’t likely to be re-signed.

Much of the bench make-up also likely depends on the health of Danny Granger. He missed all but five games last season with a knee injury, and his availability for 2013 remains uncertain.

If Granger returns to full strength, coach Frank Vogel has said the former All-Star would return to the starting lineup. If Granger is less than full-strength, he would come off the bench.

Either way, the reserve unit would figure to get a boost — either from Lance Stephenson, who would yield his starting spot to Granger, or from Granger, if he’s not up to starting speed.

Bird has said emphatically that he has no plans to trade Granger. But he hasn’t ruled out a trade, or more free-agent activity, to further strengthen the bench — a particularly challenging task with limited cap room.

“You get through this first wave of free agency, and people start calling about different things,” Bird said with regard to possible trades. “I can’t guarantee we’re going to do anything, but we’re always looking.

“Like I said, my No. 1 goal is to get a better bench.”

Although the starting unit of Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and Lance Stephenson was among the league’s best, Indiana’s bench was among the NBA’s worst.

Offensively, the second unit was punchless and ranked near the bottom of the league, a season-long issue that was especially harmful in the Easter Conference Finals. The Pacers routinely lost leads or found themselves in deeper holes when they turned to their bench against the eventual champion Miami Heat.

Bird is adamant that history does not repeat itself next season.

“We have a very good starting five, five guys that can compete on a high level every night,” he said. “We’re going to try to upgrade the bench and be able to bring in guys who can hold a lead or get a bigger lead for us.

“We have to do whatever we can to get a better bench.”

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