Derrick Rose's return and what could be Luol Deng's last season in Chicago means the Bulls are putting all their chips on the table to make a run at the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference this season.
But they won't be alone.
Earlier today the Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz wrote that team president Larry Bird believes the Pacers are "all in," and that "anything less than (a Finals appearance or a conference finals appearance) would be a disappointment."
And Bird's comments make sense. Last season the Pacers took the eventual champion Miami Heat to seven games -- and arguably looked like the better team throughout the series -- and only improved this offseason, adding Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson to a bench that will improve the team defensively.
The Pacers also get back Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with various knee injuries. Given that Granger will be a free agent next season, this could be the last season he's in Indiana with the rest of the Pacers core. How he fits in with this year's team remains to be seen, but if he's healthy then his career 18.1 points per game are too valuable not to have on the floor for extended minutes.
But the Pacers can only truly be all in with a committed superstar, and today they finalized a max contract with that person. Paul George inked a five-year deal that could be worth up to $90 million to make him the face of Indiana's rising franchise. Along with core Roy Hibbert and David West, George and the reigning Central Division champions have put together all the pieces they believe they need to repeat and get over the hump against LeBron James and the Heat this year.
The Bulls open their preseason schedule this year in Indiana on Oct. 5. The two teams will meet up on Nov. 6, again in Indiana, for the first of four regular-season matchups.