Bird: We're Going to Stay the Course

by Mark Montieth Writer

Larry Bird sat down to meet with the media following the Pacers' toothless NBA draft Thursday and joked, “Well, that was a wasted two weeks.”

If the media members on hand in Bankers Life Fieldhouse who had waited five hours through the draft were disappointed by the lack of a selection – the Pacers traded their second-round pick to New York for cash considerations and had traded their first-round pick to Phoenix last year – imagine how the team's scouting department and front office executives felt. All that effort to scout and evaluate talent, and nothing to show for it.

Still, Bird decided coming up empty was a better alternative than investing in a player with little chance of making the team. He said he had targeted a player for the team's 57th pick, but that player was taken “a couple of picks ahead of us.”

Bird said owner Herb Simon will permit him to spend money in free agency up to the luxury tax threshold, but not beyond. Bird, therefore, wasn't in the mood to waste time or money on a longshot. “If our guy wasn't there we weren't going to take a stab at it, because we've got Lance (Stephenson), we've got Lavoy (Allen), we've got some other guys we're looking at,” Bird said.

“Now we just turn our attention to free agency.”

Here's the rest of Bird's post-midnight session with the media. The quick take: he wants to stay the course and keep the core together, which includes re-signing Lance Stephenson. 

Q. Was there any effort or conversation about moving into the first round?

A. We could've. But the penalty's getting higher and higher in this league. It's more than just swapping future picks. There were a couple of guys late in the first round in the late 20s we thought we'd really like to have, but they were gone also. Not much we could do.

Q. How do you feel when you go through the whole process and working guys out and …

A. Awful. It just goes to show you, you have to be in the first round. It's more exciting. We have to see what free agency does. We brought over 40 guys in (for workouts) and our scouts have been working all year. The decision was made if our guy's not there, we're just not going to make the pick. That's what happened.

Q. Who was the guy?

A. Uh. I can't remember (smiling).

Q. You said he went a couple of picks ahead of where you were drafting.

A. A few picks ahead of us. We brought him in and he played very well. Our scouts scouted him all year and we really liked him, and we thought maybe he'd get there. But he didn't, so there's no use taking someone and cutting him three weeks later. My owner don't like to sell picks; he don't want no part of that. But that's the only option we had.

Q. Do you think the way free agency is stacking up, with Carmelo (Anthony) and LeBron (James), this could be the craziest free agency period in a long time?

A. I don't know. There's a lot of names out there. I think a lot of them will go back to their original team. You never know anymore. The league's changing. But if you have an opportunity to grab a pretty good player, you better grab him. Whether it's free agency or in the draft.

Q. Have you gotten any kind of a read at all from Lance's people what you're looking at there (in terms of salary).

A. I haven't even talked to Lance's people. As a matter of fact yesterday was the first day I sat down and talked with him about the season and how I felt it ended. It's the second sit-down I've had with him. I think if we do bring him back here I made it pretty clear what I expect. And that's all that was said. July 1st I'll talk with his agent and we'll go from there. I know a lot of guys have deals done before the 1st, but I don't do that. We'll wait. Lance wants to be here, there's no question about it. He wants to be here. Now it's a matter of getting the terms right and try to get him back.

He's been here every day working out, so he's easy to get (in touch with). Now we'll see after he signs if he's going to be here every day (laughing). But he was great last summer so I don't see anything different.

But that's our goal now is to bring some of the players we have here back. I like our team. I know we can get better. Guys are working hard. My goal is to try to get Lance and Lavoy and some of the other guys back for next year.

Q. In the sit-down (with Stephenson), did you crack the whip?

A. No, I just told him what I expected. That was done earlier. I have a good relationship with Lance. I like Lance. I like his talents. But some of the things he did at the end of the year concerned me. I just wanted to make sure we're on the same page going forward. He wants to be here. He made it pretty clear. So we'll see what happens.

Q. You mentioned Lavoy a couple of times there and he didn't really factor into the mix …

A. Well, he's a pretty good player. I like him. We'll see what happens.

Q. Do you still feel good about Luis Scola and what he can contribute?

A. Yeah. He had a pretty good year, other than when he hurt his elbow and struggled for awhile and lost his confidence. When he's rolling, he needs to play. When he gets on one of them scoring binges he needs to be in the game. I know David don't care. David West is all about winning. Just like today, when you look at the 27th pick, you can't get a better player than (Scola) for what we're trying to do here.

Q. And George Hill has been another one who's been …

A. Every day. Every day. They tell George to go home and take a day off. He's committed himself to the summer to get better, and that's all I want to hear. Guys have been great. Roy's back. I'm looking for big things out of Solomon Hill this year. I know he can play. The last half of the season in practice he looked better and better. He works hard. He's going to be a factor.

I think George Hill's going to be a better basketball player. You just don't work that hard every day and not get better. Hopefully we can bring Lance back. He's going to work hard and get better. So I look for good things next year.

Q. Was there anything specifically you wanted (Hill) to work on?

A. I think George plays his best when he's aggressive with the ball. When he's driving, when he's penetrating, when he's kicking.  He's in there getting stronger. These kids, when they go through these workouts, it's pretty amazing what they put them through. He's been here every day. I seen him the other day and he said, 'They told me I couldn't work out today.' That shows you that he's committed.

Q. What impact, if any, does what Miami's doing and is trying to do and is rumored to be doing in terms of making changes  – maybe bringing (Kyle) Lowry in, maybe letting (Chris) Bosh go, whatever they do with LeBron (James), does that impact you any?      

A. No. We're going to stay the course and see how this works out. I can't worry about Miami. If you look at San Antonio, all those guys taking less money to stay together … I have no clue what LeBron and Bosh and (Dwyane) Wade are going to do. My concern is how much better we can get as a basketball team so we can compete at a high level next year.

Q. The stay-the-course philosophy doesn't get fans excited, but do you go back to your coaching time here …

A. Well, I can't worry about the fans. I'm worried about the team. I want the fans to support us. We won 56 games last year. It didn't end well. I didn't like how it ended in Game 6. But over the course of the years, just because we got off to that great start, I never felt we were that good, and when we were playing bad I didn't think we was that bad. We've got a good basketball team.

I played on teams with the same guys year after year after year and we had success. I think this team can also.

Q. Do you also draw from your coaching time here. Like, in 1999 (after the Pacers lost to the Knicks in the conference finals) people wanted things changed and you came back in 2000 and you went to the Finals. Do you draw from that experience?

A. You try to draw from every experience you can. That's how you get better. I believe in keeping the core of your team together. You might make some moves and try to add to it, but I like our core. We've got to be more consistent and have better ball movement and I think players have to be held more accountable. And I think they will be.

I think one of the problems this year is that I didn't spend enough time with Lance. I was gone a  year, I came back, he had a good year, I just told him I wasn't going to bother him. I texted him a few times and we talked about the game, but I left him alone. I think that was a mistake on my part.

Q. As a general rule, would you like to see the bench used more next season?

A. That's up to Frank (Vogel). My thing with the bench is, ever since I've been playing basketball, no matter who you are, if the guy who went in for you was playing good, you leave him in there. That's the way it's always been. I did it when I coached and when I was a player in Boston that's how we did it. The teams I was on in Boston when we had success, we were committed to each other. Every day. We were trying to win every year. We knew we were good and if we stayed healthy we had a chance to win a championship. So we were committed to one another.

We didn't have to like each other, but we had to be committed to one another (laughing).

Q. Do you plan to make a call at 12:01 (to Stephenson's agent on July 1)?

A. That's the way you're supposed to do it. Lance wants to be here. They're not going to rush into a decision. I told him this morning, I'm going to call his agent and go from there and see what happens. I know Lance wants to be here. He needs to be paid like everyone else needs to be paid and we're going to do what we can to keep him.

Q. Do you feel like you'll have to make moves to clear room to pay him?

A. I don't know. I have a certain amount I'm going to pay him and I'm not going over that. I do know that. But it's going to be a very good contract. I know what I can do to make it work. And it's a very, very fair contract.

Q. In free agency, is one of the positions you're going to look at point guard?

A. You have a problem with our point guards (smiling)?

Q. There's a couple (free agents) that are interesting.

A. Well, you can speculate all you want, but I'm pretty set with our core group. I'm going to give them another shot. They almost got there two years in a row and I think they deserve another shot.

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