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Bird Sounds Like a Man With Work To Do

by Conrad Brunner

May 30, 2012

As Larry Bird entered the room Wednesday morning, he had an introductory word of caution for the assemblage of media:

"I'm walking into a press conference," he said, "and I've got no answers."

Maybe not the big one -- whether he would return as team President for the 2012-13 season -- but Bird left little room for doubt about his intentions in a season-ending briefing that covered a lot of ground but always tended to wind up back at the heart of the matter, Bird's status. Throughout the 20-minute session he talked eagerly about the future, both long- and short-term, and his plans for the team.

At no point did he sound like a man prepared to step away.

"I love my job," he said. "This is one of the best, there's just 30 of them. Obviously we went through some tough times and now we're reaping the benefits of what we saw three or four years ago. We had to change the culture and if I had to grade ourselves on doing that it'd have to be an A because we've got good kids here that are dedicated to this city and our community and they want to win basketball games. That's the biggest thing for me: we've got good kids in here that want to be here.

"I wouldn't want to sign a four- or five-year deal because I'm getting older, I don't know long I want to do this but I do love my job and what we have to do is find out which direction we want this franchise to go."

Bird said he hoped to meet with owner Herb Simon as soon as possible to determine his status. He has been on a year-to-year handshake deal and pondered stepping aside last season but returned at Simon's insistence.

It turned out to be a rewarding season for Bird and the franchise as the team had its fourth-highest winning percentage in the NBA (.636) during the regular season, and then advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005. For his role in building the team -- specifically the trades for George Hill, Leandro Barbosa and Jeff Pendergraph and the free-agent acquisition of David West -- Bird was named the league's Executive of the Year.

"I love this team, there's no question about it," Bird said. "This is one of the best locker rooms we've had. The attitude has changed in the lat few years. It's been a breath of fresh air."

Bird said he has spoken with Simon on the phone but the two have not scheduled a meeting to finalize matters.

"I'd do it today if Herbie was here," he said. "We've got kids coming in working out, we've got the draft, we've got free agency and then we've got summer league all wrapped up in less than a month. So obviously I want to sit down with Herbie and get this done as quick as possible.

"I don't like this. It'd be easier for everyone if I just signed a three-year deal but we're on a handshake deal and we always will be. It's hard coming in here now knowing the answers. I'm being as honest as I can be with you but sometimes I don't have the answers."

There was no uncertainty when it came to his plans for the team.

Bird was disappointed in the play of the second unit in the postseason, particularly against Miami, and intends to continue to strengthen the team's depth. He shares Coach Frank Vogel's opinion that there is a great deal of room for improvement from within the roster but that depends heavily on the unknown of just how much better the young players can become.

He fully intends to re-sign restricted free agents Roy Hibbert and George Hill but was less definitive about unrestricted free agents Leandro Barbosa, Lou Amundson, A.J. Price and Kyrylo Fesenko. As for the NBA Draft on June 28, he holds the 26th pick in the first round and said he would explore trading up or trading out to add another veteran, as he did last year in the deal with San Antonio for Hill.

"I think our weakness is our bench," he said. "They weren't consistent like I'd like. I thought (Jeff) Foster retiring really hurt us, especially in the playoffs. We've got to try to get better in some of those areas. I thought Barbosa came in here and changed the attitude on the team. The guys thought he added so much. I think we won something like 17 of 23 or 24 games with him. And then in the Miami series the last two or three games we really got nothing from Barbosa. But I like him as a player. I think he brings a lot.

"We've just got to get better. Lance (Stephenson) will get better and I also think (Jeff) Pendergraph's going to make a big difference. We just need to make a couple of moves, strengthen our bench and I think we'll be pretty good."

There is much Bird would like to do, assuming he will be the one doing it. If the meeting with Simon goes well, there's no reason to doubt that will be the case.

"I love my job, I love my players," Bird said. "What can I say?"

Here's a hint: it might be borrowed from MacArthur, or even Arnold, but something along the lines of "I shall return" or "I'll be back" would work nicely.