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Stephenson, Pacers up to task?

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It’s been an active few weeks for what might have been the NBA’s second-worst division during the 2013-14 season.

An All-Star team starting five could be made with new acquisitions alone.

The planet’s best player returns to Cleveland, a Duke University All-American got drafted by Milwaukee, a two-time NBA champion who stands 7-foot is off to Chicago, and Detroit recently improved by adding a pair of savvy veteran scorers.

Furthermore, a certain bearded Minnesota Timberwolves player might soon be joining the fun in Cleveland.

This brings us to defending division titlist Indiana, which brought in ... um ... hang on a second ... got it right here ... C.J. Miles.

No disrespect to Miles, a 6-6 swingman who averaged 9.9 points last season for a Cavs franchise he probably wishes he was still with in light of recent events, but he’s here to help make the Pacers’ bench stronger.


Meanwhile, the other four franchises in the Eastern Conference’s Central Division have made major strides in their attempt to catch up with and possibly even pass the Pacers.

Lance Stephenson, the ball has been bounced to you.

His initially spurning Indiana’s five-year, $44 million deal caught most of us by surprise, considering it’s nearly 10 times the annual salary the versatile 6-5 guard had been making.

Seriously, who does that?

Minimum wage in Indiana is presently $7.25 per hour. Don’t think hardworking men and women working graveyard shifts everywhere wouldn’t sacrifice a kidney to make $72.50 per.

(Shaking head) Lance, Lance, Lance.

If Stephenson bolts — and with him you never know — the Pacers are reduced to a No. 3 or 4 seed in next year’s Eastern Conference playoffs no matter what strings Larry Bird magically pulls.

If Stephenson stays — which I suspect, perhaps foolishly, he will — Indiana players need to make good on their promise to improve during the offseason.

That means you, Paul George. And you, Lance. And especially you, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and Luis Scola.

The status quo no longer is good enough with LeBron James going back to Cleveland and possibly being joined by 6-10 post Kevin Love, who at 25 is already a three-time NBA All-Star.

With all-galaxy guard Derrick Rose healthy and prepared to dish interior passes to Joakim Noah and free-agent signee Pau Gasol, Indiana definitely has its work cut out.

Blue Collar, Gold Swagger might be a catchy slogan, but who are we fooling here? The Indiana Pacers exuded neither during their final 22 regular-season games or at any point during their 19-game playoff run.

Indiana is going to have to literally reinvent itself from the inside out using mostly the same pieces.

The Pacers need to be tougher, less turnover-prone and no longer vulnerable to the mystifying disappearing acts performed at times by George, Hibbert and Hill.

Improved cohesion is a must, with coach Frank Vogel knowing better which buttons to press when it comes to his substitution patters.

The manner in which San Antonio carved apart Miami with fundamentals and familiarity in the NBA Finals was beautiful to observe. Maybe this is what Indiana aspires to emulate — a veteran core unit flanked by a series of moving parts along the periphery.

It’s all in line to happen if Stephenson comes back.

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