Caught in the Web Indiana Pacers blog: Bird pleased with team's progress

Bird pleased with progress, but still looking for ways to improve

Feb. 23, 2012

Editor's Note: With the Pacers fully in contention for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs at midseason, team President Larry Bird sat down for this Q&A to share his thoughts on the team's progress.

How do you feel about where the team is and how far it has come to this point?
"We've been up and down lately but overall I see about what I expected. I knew we were going to be stronger with our starting lineup and I was trying to build the bench up. It's hurt us lately not having George (Hill) in there but it also gives time for some younger guys to get some playing time. We're about on schedule. I thought we handled the first 20 games the way we were hoping they would, to go on the road and win games. Now we're settling in at midseason and really trying to finish strong. Hopefully we can stay as healthy as we possibly can and make a good run at it."

You mentioned the bench, and going into the year that was one of the points of emphasis, to make this a deep team. Are you satisfied with how that's developed?
"Well, I liked it a lot better earlier on. They're not playing as well right now. You just hope every time they go out there they continue to improve because they're a valuable part of this team. When you can go 10-11 guys deep, that gives you a major advantage in this league, especially with this schedule."

You obviously pushed the right buttons in acquiring David West and George Hill. How happy are you with what they've brought to the team?
"They're great guys, they're professionals and they come and do their work. David we knew was going to take some time. I'm pretty pleased. He's starting to ramp it up a little bit. You've got to remember he missed nine months with a knee injury, he didn't play any basketball. He's still getting comfortable within the system, he's getting better each game. We look at David to have basically the same type of stats he had in New Orleans, 18 and eight or 18 and seven and he's starting to get into that groove. The luxury of all that is he doesn't have to play 35 minutes a game because we've got Tyler (Hansbrough) there. With George (out), A.J. (Price) came in and played well and Lance has been playing better. It'll be nice to see when we get our whole group back."

When a team succeeds, individuals get recognized. How nice is it for you to see Roy Hibbert become an All-Star and Paul George get invited to participate in All-Star Weekend events?
"Both of them are very hard workers. We've seen Roy the last three years here in the summer doing whatever he possibly could to get better each day. And Paul, we know he's a gymrat. He's going to continue to get better and he's made a pretty good leap from last year and we expect him to continue to do it. Seeing Roy on the All-Star team is great because you know it's just the dedication to the game the last five or six years. Did we expect it? Not really, but it's a great honor for him because he can say, "Look, I did all that work and look what it got me." He's going to continue to get better and he's going to have a good career."

Has the team's success to this point changed the goals? Is the team maybe reaching a little higher than originally thought?
"We won 37 games last year and I thought with the additions of George and David we were going to be better right out of the gate. We had a tough schedule with all the road games but I thought the way they handled it, they went out to win games, they didn't go out to play games, that they had a swagger that they thought they could beat anybody. Then they hit a rough spot and we struggled there. And really they're still struggling a little bit, some of the guys. But they keep practicing, they're going to have more practice time now than they've had and I expect them to continue to get better."

How rewarding is it for you to see this plan come together?
"It was a long, tough three years for me. Once Donnie (Walsh) left, I knew the situation. When I talked to the owners I had a vision of how I wanted to do it. Out of the 13 guys, 12 of them are ones I brought here. So I have a sense of the type of player I want and what type of team I like to see play -- not only for me but for the franchise. We want to continue to get better, we want to continue to draft well and we're still looking. We've got $15 million under the cap and I'm not afraid to make another move now to strengthen our bench or maybe even (add) one or two guys. We're still out there looking and whatever we can do to make this team better, we're going to do."

Does the team's success thus far have any impact on how you approach the trade deadline, in terms of your interest in pursuing more changes?
"I'm going continue to do whatever I can to make this team better. If I see a player out there I think can make us better, I'm going to go ahead and make the move. It could be a trade, but it's probably going to be picking up somebody off another team just so they can get some money off (the salary cap). We've got a lot of calls in, talked to a lot of people and we're going to try to continue to strengthen this team."

With regard to the coaching staff, Frank Vogel made significant hires (assistants Brian Shaw and Jim Boylen) coming into this year and he is continuing to grow. How would you evaluate the job this staff has done?
"I'm very pleased with our coaching staff. I talk to Frank and he asks me a few little questions here or there but I'm not a coach. He's in total control down there. He's got great assistants and they seem like they're having fun. They're workers and they get along well and usually that doesn't happen in this league. I think the addition of Brian and Jim has been fantastic. It's not only helped our team, it's helped Frank, too."

What do you want to see from this group the rest of the year?
"I want them to get their swagger back, get to where they feel they can beat anybody and continue to get better going into the playoffs."

Follow @conrad_brunner on Twitter