Larry Bird is putting his stamp on the Indiana Pacers and he isnít finished yet. Seven new players joined the Pacers in training camp, highlighted by guards T.J. Ford
and Jarrett Jack
and the subtraction of Jermaine OíNeal
. Published reports have guard Jamaal Tinsley
on the move any day now and the teamís biggest need Ė a low-post scoring threat Ė still needs to be addressed.
As President of Basketball Operations for the Pacers, Bird is flying solo, no longer sharing duties with his front-office mentor and longtime chief executive Donnie Walsh. In an interview with John Hareas of NBA.com, Bird discussed the Pacersí biggest need of improvement, who will fill the leadership role, why you should keep an eye on Troy Murphy and his passion away from basketball, Legends wine.
NBA.com: What do you see as the No. 1 area of improvement for the Pacers this season?
Larry Bird: Obviously we have to get better on the defensive end. Last year we committed too many fouls and we didnít defend the three-point shot. So overall our defense has to get better to win games. Offensively, weíll score a lot of points. Defense was the problem last year. As far as the team goes, I think we did something in the draft to help us overall, and I think we solidified our point guard position with Travis [Diener],T.J., and Jarrett Jack so weíre very strong in that area right now.
NBA.com: How big of an impact will rookie Roy Hibbert have on the defensive end in the role of shot blocker, overall defensive presence?
Larry Bird: Itís always good to have a big guy in there. Without Jermaine last year we didnít have that potential to block shots. With Roy in there he takes up a lot of space and even if we donít block a lot of shots, you can get guys to shoot up over him and maybe distract them a little bit. I think itís going to be a major plus for us. Obviously heís a rookie and heís got a lot of learning to do, but in the long run heíll be fine.
NBA.com: Who is the team leader?
Larry Bird: I think it can be a couple guys. Weíve had some players around here just waiting for the opportunity to step in and I think now theyíll look at the training camp and go through and youíll sort of see after a while who the players gravitate to. So I donít think that will be a problem anymore. Some of those guys would be Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger,
Jeff Foster, T.J. Ford, even a new guy coming in can lead. But I think theyíll do it by committee. Theyíre a good group of guys that want to win and work hard, so weíre looking for some good things out of them.
NBA.com: Danny Granger made some big strides last season. Whatís the next step for Granger this season?
Larry Bird: Well, Dunleavy and Granger both made great strides on the offensive end. The style we play, we put up a lot of shots and score a lot of points, so thereís more freedom on the offensive end. Hopefully they can give us a few more points out of their positions and help us overall. Both of them are very good basketball players and I really feel that theyíll take the next step. This is Mikeís seventh year and Dannyís fourth year, and Danny got a real good taste of it last year so I look for him to improve.
NBA.com: Youíve said that Troy Murphy is going to have his best NBA season this year. Why do you think so?
Larry Bird: Heíll play probably 35 minutes a game and heís always played around 30 or 32 minutes. At the end of the season last year when he was playing the 35 minutes he started producing more. Plus in the offseason the last couple of years heís really worked hard. Each summer you do that you continue to get better, so I look for a big year out of Troy.
NBA.com: What has Austin Croshere shown in camp thus far?
Larry Bird: He has played very well. Austinís been one of our better players in camp. He came in in great shape, heís hit his shots, heís rebounded, heís played tough, and I know Austin. I was here when we drafted him in my first year when I coached in í97, so I know all about Austin. But heís looked very well. Heís done a good job for us.
NBA.com: How has your job changed day to day without Donnie Walsh around?
Larry Bird: Youíre in a position to make the decisions. For a few years we were stuck at the luxury tax, which we are this year. Next year weíll have some flexibility; weíve got a lot of guys up on contracts and weíve got flexibility to either keep some of the same guys or go out and get new ones. Itís different because it is day to day control. Itís something I enjoy, but I also miss Donnie.
NBA.com: Have you reached out to Donnie since he left?
Larry Bird: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
NBA.com: Larry Bird, the wine connoisseur? Tell me about your other passion, Legends wine. How did you get involved with wine?
Larry Bird: I got into this years ago. I used to make some. I didnít drink it but my brothers liked it and their wives liked it. So itís just been a hobby when I was retired. I would go out and try to make some different kinds. A friend of mine got me hooked up with Mitch Cosentino, the owner of Cosentino Winery and knowing all the success that heís had in it.
It seemed like a great combination Ė somebody that knew what the heck heís doing and somebody that had a passion for it. Mitch made some samples, sent it out, and I really liked it, so we were off and running.
NBA.com: How involved are you in the overall process?
Larry Bird: I talk to a guy out in Chicago, a guy that owns the company, and he sends me the wine and we talk about it. Iíve been very impressed with everything they do as a company and extremely impressed with the way Mitch handles everything. Theyíve got the Legends brand out but theyíve also got the Consentino brand out that is excellent wine. They won a lot of awards over the last three or four years. They do very well.
NBA.com: Is this a good outlet for you since so much of your life revolves around the game?
Larry Bird: Itís funny. When you go in a restaurant and see a bottle of Legends, itís just like when I was a player and go in and see a basketball with my signature on it when I was with Spalding and the shoes we had out; itís not different now. When we go out to eat, a lot of restaurants know Iím coming and theyíll put the wine out on the table, so itís pretty neat. Itís a neat little thing to be involved in.
NBA.com: What are some of your favorites?
Larry Bird: Well, I can sit here and say I like them all. The cabernet is good. Meritage. The chardonnay I like as well as any of them. Itís been good. I like a different variety and thatís what it gives you.
NBA.com: Donít you have a wine cellar in your house?
Larry Bird: Yes, I have one. Itís pretty neat going down there and seeing all the different styles and having friends over and have them pick out what they want. Itís pretty big Ė I donít have it completely full Ė but it will hold a couple thousand bottles.
NBA.com: Does Larry Bird offer wine tips among your basketball friends?
Larry Bird: (Laughs) Itís funny, Iíve had some coaches come up to me and ask me. They always want me to send them a bottle, which I do occasionally. Not the players as much as the coaches.