Larry Bird usually greets me with something friendly and personal.

His favorite goes something like this: “You’re like a virus, you never go away.”

Warms my heart just to type those familiar words.

Not Monday, though. Before I had come to a stop, before I could even extend my hand, he looked over and said, “No, we haven’t signed Paul George.”

Not yet, anyway. But soon.

As the Pacers prepare to launch into training camp this weekend – that’s right, practice begins Saturday – there are just two primary issues still on the table. One is Danny Granger’s comeback, how complete it will be and its ramifications for the rest of the roster.

The other, of course, is George’s contract, and it looks like a resolution is imminent.

To gauge Bird’s sense of urgency on the matter, consider: he skipped playing in the franchise’s annual golf outing at Brickyard Crossing because of the need to keep pushing George’s deal toward a conclusion.

If Bird misses free golf, something major is up.

‘We’re working on that,” Bird said. “That’s why I can’t play golf now, I’ve got to get back there (to the office) and mess with Paul’s contract and see if we can get something done today.”

George has made it clear he wants to remain with the Pacers, despite a brief attempt at flirtation by the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant over the summer. And the Pacers obviously are fully committed to retaining the services of their most talented all-around player – maybe the most talented all-around NBA player they’ve employed.

That doesn’t always lead to a deal, however. A decade ago, Brad Miller made his first All-Star team in his first full season with the Pacers and fully intended to remain with his home-state team. Free agency being the unpredictable beast, Miller’s price tag – 7 years, $68 million – spiraled well beyond the Pacers’ budget and they were left with little choice but to work a sign-and-trade with Sacramento in order to get something back (Scot Pollard) in return.

No such external interference is on the horizon here. The George deal will get done. That means George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West will be signed for at least the next two seasons.

“It’s always good to have the leverage but the number’s got to be the number we both like and that’s what it’s all about,” Bird said. “It’s all about money. Yes, he wants to be here. He’s told me that a million times. We want him here, so let’s just find a number for both.”

paul george lebron james

Paul George is on the verge of signing a 5-year contract extension that could be worth more than $100 million. (Photo: Icon SMI)

The number being floated around the media grapevine is $90 over five years, in effect a max deal. But as financial expert Tim Donahue of ESPN’s True Hoop blog pointed out, the deal is more likely to have a present value of $84.1 million. Should George make one of the three All-NBA teams this time, it would mark his second such honor and make him eligible for an accelerator that could push the deal’s value to $100.9 million.

Bird said he “never heard” the five-year, $90 million number.

“I wish that was my number instead of his,” Bird said with a smile. “That’s a big number.”

As for Granger, there remains some mystery. He will address his rehab for the first time during the team’s media day on Friday, and only then will we get a more clear idea of just what he expects from himself, and how soon.

Will he start? Will Lance Stephenson remain in the lineup with Granger joining a dramatically upgraded bench? Will he be able to come all the way back from knee surgery that was viewed as a last-resort treatment for an unusual degenerative condition?

“He looks great,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “So does Lance, so both of those guys have risen to the challenge and are going to have good camps and we’ll see how it all plays out.”

We’ll have plenty of time to examine the Granger issue. For now, priority one is George. Once the contract is done, we’ll have other big numbers to discuss.


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