Transcript: Larry Bird's Year-End Press Conference

Editor's Note: Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird met with the media Wednesday, May 10, and answered questions ranging from Jermaine O'Neal trade rumors to Coach Rick Carlisle's future. What follows is a transcript of Bird's answers.

Q. How would you characterize the 2005-06 season?

A. There's no question if you ask all the players, they felt that they underachieved this year. Obviously, it's not the season we anticipated but we had some of the same problems we had last year. We had a lot of injuries. Going into the playoffs, when you have three starters out, it puts a lot of pressure on your bench and there's a reason some of these guys are bench players: because they're inconsistent. That's what you've seen throughout the playoffs and throughout the year.

Q. Do you agree with Anthony Johnson's statement that the team's culture needs to change?

A. I can't speak for Anthony. I know a lot of guys were frustrated at the end of the year. Anthony probably had the best year he's ever had. He played great all the way from training camp throughout the year. There's a lot of things that happened this year in the locker room. I don’t think our chemistry was as good as it should've been. And the Artest situation frustrated a lot of people. Are there going to be wholesale changes? No. We'll talk to people throughout the league and see if we can make our team better. I just think Anthony was frustrated. We all were at that time.

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"Are there going to be wholesale changes? No."

Q. How much personnel change do you anticipate?

A. We don't know right now. Obviously we've got two free agents we'd like to re-sign and if we don't we're going to have to fill the position. But we like our core group of players and all the guys are good guys. It's just that we've got to have better chemistry and that has to do with each individual coming in with the right attitude and going to work and doing the things necessary to get better.

Q. Did Coach Rick Carlisle lose the team?

A. I think with everything that happened last year you could look and probably say he did lose the team at times but these guys are professional, they're good guys, they know what they have to do to win ballgames. Rick's a great basketball coach. There's no question. And the players like him. It's just that some things didn't go the way they thought this year and there was a lot of frustration. A lot of it has to do with injuries. We're not going to make excuses but usually injuries come and go, but we had a majority of pretty serious injuries this year.

Q. What can be done to prevent another recurrence of injury problems?

A. I told the players after the season, two weeks from tonight, you're going to feel better. But that doesn't mean the injuries go away. You heal up, but some of these guys have injuries that they're going to have to strengthen certain areas, they're going to have to get therapy and they're going to have to prepare their bodies to play an 82-game schedule. I think some of the guys came in not being in the condition they should and when the season starts, muscles fatigue and they tear muscles and do different things to their bodies. They have to come in in better shape and they have to take care of themselves this summer.

Q. Will you consider trading Jermaine O'Neal?

A. Jermaine's name is going to come up all summer. There's not one time that we called anybody and said, 'Hey, are you interested in Jermaine O'Neal?' Jermaine O'Neal is the best player on this team. Every player on this team knows Jermaine's our guy. Are we looking to trade Jermaine? No. I can't sit here today and tell you we're going to pursue to trade Jermaine O'Neal.

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"I think there's got to be more communication with the coach and the players."

Q. What can be done to improve team chemistry?

A. I think there's got to be more communication with the coach and the players. The players have got to talk out their frustrations. I've been on teams where the chemistry wasn't right but if you talk about it and get back in the right frame of mind and everybody has the same goals, you can change that. I've seen it happen before.

Q. Do you agree with O'Neal's statement that the Pacers need to acquire a true center?

A. I sort of felt bad when I heard that for Jeff (Foster) and Scottie (Pollard) and David (Harrison). Obviously, David's not where we want him to be yet. Jeff was hurt throughout most of the season and Scottie missed a lot of games because of injury. But if you have them three guys healthy and playing, that's a pretty powerful unit there. Yeah, we'd like to have Shaq in the middle, there's no question about that. But he's not going to come. There's a lot of things we're looking at and I can see where Jermaine's coming from at times but I also like the three guys we have.

Q. Will all of the assistant coaches be back next season?

A. I don't know. We haven't really talked to Rick yet. Obviously, that's probably up to him. We'll sit down and talk to him next week and see what he's thinking.

Q. Did Peja Stojakovic's injury and lack of productivity when healthy in the playoffs concern you?

A. The thing about Peja is he got hurt three or four games before the playoffs started and we knew that going in. I remember when I first started playing in the playoffs I didn't shoot the ball very well the first year, year-and-a-half. It just takes time. Obviously, we think he's a great player and we think he can help us, not only in the regular season but during the playoffs.

Q. Has Anthony Johnson reached the point that he's a starting point guard?

A. I think he's good enough to start, there's no question about that. Anthony had a heck of a year. The one thing about Anthony: he comes to work every day. He prepares himself, and hard work paid off for the kid. But I'm not the coach and I don't know who's going to start. If Jamaal Tinsley's healthy and in shape, he's about as good as you're going to get in this league. But Anthony had a great year so it's a tough question.

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"It's frustrating for everybody - our fans, us - but we'll bounce back."

Q. Why has this team failed to live up to expectations the past two seasons?

A. Go back to injuries. I don't want to sit here and beat it to death but we've had as many injuries as anybody in the league, and to key players. Some of it has to do with how they played. We won 61 games, had a strong team, come out the next year and was playing very well and things happened. Then this year, basically, we felt going in that we had a very strong team. We were deep. Then when Ronnie asked to be traded it really shocked everyone and took us back a couple of steps. Once we moved Ronnie (Artest) along, then we got into the situation where we had a lot of injuries and it's frustrating. It's frustrating for everybody – our fans, us – but we'll bounce back. We've got a good team. I think the most frustrating thing this year was losing games to teams we should beat. ... Going into this year I really felt comfortable with the team. After everything that happened the year before I thought they came in with the right frame of mind and trying to prove to people. It didn't work out. It was very frustrating. It was a tough season.

Q. If the current roster returns and remains healthy, is it good enough to compete for a title?

A. I don't know. Detroit's pretty good. But I think if we're healthy and the guys come in in shape and do the things necessary to get better during the year we can give them a run. But we've got to get over the hump. You've got to beat them to make people believe in you. They're very good and hopefully we can come back this year and be able to compete with them.

Q. In retrospect, would you have done anything differently over the past couple of years?

A. Every year, I've gone into the season and thought we had a heck of a team. You can always second-guess but I like our guys, I really do. I like them as individuals and I like them as players. It's just that there are some things that need to be changed. The attitude's got to be changed, the chemistry's got to be changed and that's something we're going to work on this summer. We've talked to every player and they understand that.

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"The chemistry's got to be better. ... it's got to be a unit or it won't work."

Q. Can you change the team without changing the players?

A. It's hard to talk about trades right now because we haven't started the process. We'll get calls and if we think we can make our team better we'll do something. But I like our guys and the majority of them work their tails off every day. But the chemistry's got to be better and the attitudes during games: arguing with the officials, not running back on defense, taking bad shots; all that stuff's got to stop. It's got to be a unit or it won't work.

Q. How much responsibility for the poor season is Carlisle's?

A. It's not just Rick, it's myself and Donnie (Walsh) included. We can't have that here. That's not the way you win. You've got to be professional and we've talked to every one of the guys about it. It's got to change - and it will. ... I believe at times Rick's got to be stricter on them. He's got to demand more out of these guys as far as being professionals and the way they play together. I think they'll react to that.

Q. Do the players get along well enough to develop the necessary chemistry?

A. When you lose it puts a lot more pressure on each individual. From what I hear, they like each other. They talk about their teammates and always have high praise. Sometimes they don't like the shot selection, they don't like the decisions on the court. They want to be a unit. They've got to be a unit going out there. When it's time to go, you go. You go out there, play, win together and lose together. When you lose, you've just got to get tighter and tighter and I didn't see any of that this year.

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"We're going to try to fit in pieces, talk to people and see if we can make this team better."

Q. Is the constant trade talk a distraction?

A. It's been building up for a couple years here. It's very difficult when you have a season like we did and you lose in the playoffs, there's a lot of speculation out there that they're going to get traded so they feed into that. It's the same thing during the trade deadline, it's all you hear about. Then, two months later, it's 'we're going to blow this thing up.' No. We're not going to do that. We're going to try to fit in pieces, talk to people and see if we can make this team better.

Q. How did O'Neal handle the mantle of team leadership?

A. It'll take awhile. He's getting better. There's no question about it. He knows the little things he has to do now to incorporate himself in with the team. They look up to Jermaine. The players like Jermaine. But with the injury he had, it was a pretty severe injury, and that's two years in a row. He had the shoulder and then the groin. But he's coming. He's getting better. You just can't do it overnight. Trying to lead a team and do all the little things at times gets frustrating but I think he'll continue to get better. I've talked to him a lot about it. It's just the little things. Everybody goes out on the court together. Well, Jermaine never went out on the court with the other guys. Now he's doing that. It's the little things the players see and appreciate. It might be minor to you but for the team it's major because they all go out together they all win together and they all lose together.

Q. Do you plan to bring (2005 second-round pick) Erazem Lorbek to camp this year or next year?

A. Our plan right now is he's going to stay over in Europe another year.

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"(Jermaine O'Neal) is our guy and we're going to build around him."

Q. Could O'Neal be traded?

A. Everything's speculation. Jermaine's our top player. I don't know who you could trade Jermaine for and get somebody better. It's all going to be speculation. Would I go to Jermaine and say 'I'm 100 percent sure you're not going to get traded?' I can't do that. But he is our guy and we're going to build around him.

Q. How do the pieces fit together at point guard?

A. The one thing I would like to see is a little more quickness in the backcourt. It's tough because Jamaal (Tinsley) has played about 1,500 minutes the last three years. If he was playing all the time, I think we'd be fine. But you're right, Anthony might think he's a starting guard now and obviously he deserves that at this point. But if Jamaal Tinsley's healthy and comes in shape and is ready to go, he's a pretty good player and he gives us a little more quickness and more ball movement out there. It's something we're going to look at, no question about it.

Q. How long can you wait for Tinsley to find a way to stay healthy?

A. It's something we talk about a lot, no question. Injuries are injuries. He dives on the floor for a loose ball and a guy steps on his elbow and he's out for 5 or 6 weeks. It's freak stuff but it's real. It's disappointing because we thought this year hopefully would be the year he'd give us 2,800 minutes but we didn't get it.

Q. What would you like Danny Granger to work on this summer?

A. I'd like to have Danny all summer for myself. There's a lot of things he can improve on. Obviously he's a very talented player, but Danny and David Harrison know what they have to do. David's been here the last two years and he's going to be here all summer and he works very, very hard. He likes this work. He likes to do things to try to get better and he's really improved. Danny, his ballhandling, I think he's falling in love with the three too much. I'd like to see him post up like he did in college. He's got all the tools. He's just got to sharpen them up a little bit.

Q. Could Granger play shooting guard?

A. I've heard Rick talk about that a little bit. Obviously, defensively, I think he can do that. But Danny Granger's really a three. You can put him defensively at two some and you can play him a little bit at four but in the future I can see Danny playing the three position. Next year, he could average 35 minutes a game.

Q. How would that be possible if Stojakovic is re-signed?

A. He can play three positions so he can get his minutes, there's no question about that.

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"When I talk to Peja, he really likes it here. He tells me he would like to be here."

Q. How difficult will it be to re-sign Stojakovic?

A. I don't know. When I talk to Peja, he really likes it here. He tells me he would like to be here. Obviously, there's probably other teams out there that would like to have him so we'll just have to wait and see.

Q. Is there any lingering concern of Stojakovic's knee injury?

A. He had an MRI and there's no structural damage, just swelling. We're not concerned from what our doctors tell us. It just needs rest and he should be alright.

Q. Would like like to re-sign Scot Pollard?

A. Yes. I'd like to re-sign Scot.

Q. What are your plans for Fred Jones?

A. We're going to see what his market value is and we'll go from there. We want to re-sign him but we'll just wait and see what kind of offers he gets.

Q. Were you disappointed in Sarunas Jasikevicius' season?

A. I think it was a shock when he got over here and found out how many games we play. He'll admit to you, about halfway through the season he hit the wall. Sarunas is a point guard. Me and Rick differ. He likes to play him at two but I think he's solely a point guard. If he gets his minutes and gets out there and gets his confidence, I think he's a very good player. Now, he's going to struggle at times on the defensive end but you've got to gear your defense to help everyone. It's got to be a team effort out there. He struggled. He'd be the first one to tell you. But does he belong in this league? Yes. I think he's a heck of a player.

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"It's up to Stephen (Jackson) to do the right things."

Q. What are your feelings about Stephen Jackson's performance and behavior?

A. With Stephen, obviously there's some things that need to be addressed and we've addressed them. Now it's up to Stephen to do the right things. I've got to admit, I didn’t like some of the things he did this year and we've talked about it. If he's back here next year, which I expect him to be, there's got to be some changes – not only with Stephen, but with a lot of the guys. I don't like to see our fans boo our players but some of the things Stephen was doing on the court frustrated me and I was embarrassed at times.

Q. Do you feel compelled to make some moves in order to regain the fan base?

A. What we have to do as a team with the guys we have here because they're here is make sure we address what's happening and why they're frustrated. And they've got to get better. I mean, we can't have it. Our fans are too valuable and we've got to have every one of them. Their frustration was showing just like I was frustrated throughout the year. These guys understand that. Our players understand. They're the ones that have to make the changes. If they can't do it, if they can't make those changes, yes, we have to look to move them.

Q. Will Carlisle be back as head coach?

A. We haven't talked to Rick. I don't know what his plans are. But he's under contract and we expect him to be back, yes.

Q. What kind of player would you like to get from the draft?

A. I've got my eye on one. Hopefully, he's there when we pick.

Q. Could the Pacers be in position to dabble in the free agent market?

A. It's according to what Scottie and Freddie do. We'd like to re-sign them but if we don't, we could dabble in the free agent market. And if we lose Peja. … if we don't re-sign him, our number's a lot lower.

Q. Do you have a number in mind that it would take to re-sign Stojakovic?

A. I don't but I think the Simons do, so you should call them. I don't know where it's going to go but everything we do we run through our owners and we want to do what's best for the franchise. Hopefully we can get a deal done with him.

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"I'll have to do more. I probably should've done more last year."

Q. Is the team's makeup completely up to you now, or is it still a responsibility shared with Donnie Walsh?

A. He's my boss, there's no question about that. I've got to take more responsibility for the way these players (behave). After noticing the fans' frustration, I think it's up to me to take the next step and make sure these guys make the change. If they can't make the change, we've got to make the change. We just can't have that. It's not what this franchise is all about. So I'll have to do more. I probably should've done more last year. I don't like to walk into the middle of the season and sort of discredit Rick. But I know what I have to do and we're going to do it.

Q. Is it too late to believe talking to the players will have the desired impact?

A. Every time I talked to them, they reacted different. But a week later they'd revert back. I've talked to some of these guys and said, 'If you need help with your emotions, go get help.' There's people out there that can help you. But we can't have it. We just can't have it anymore. If they can't make the change, we're going to have to make the change.

Q. How did you and Carlisle work through the frustrations of the season?

A. We've talked to Rick off and on all year long. I sensed a lot of frustration when I talked to Rick, but we go right back to it seems like we're coming and starting to do better and someone would get injured and it puts us right back. So there's a lot of frustration through the injuries we had. But, nah, Rick don't come in and get my advice very often. He's one of them guys that thinks he knows more than me, so why should he ask me?

Q. Would you consider returning to the bench?

A. They don't want me out there and I don't want to be out there. I wouldn't put up with it, and that's why I'm going to take a bigger role this year because we can't have it. … Things got a little out of hand because of what went on this year but Rick'll get ahold of them. Rick knows what he's got to do.

Q. Will it be necessary to take a step back in order to get better for the long-term?

A. We've taken a step back. We're not like we were when I came in. Now we've got to move forward.

Q. You said after the Artest situation was resolved that sometimes you fall in love with talent. Given this team's talent level, is it now more about building a team?

A. It's got to be a team. We've got some good players on this team. Obviously, Jermaine's a very good player, Peja's a very good player. A lot of our guys are team guys. They do the little things. They have to do the little things for us to win games. They have to defend, they have to get on the floor for loose balls, they have to rebound. And if that part's missing, we're not a very good team. But if it's all working together as a unit, they're good, they're really good and they're talented. But everybody's got to know if you're not a scorer you better do something else out there to help the team. Whatever it takes, you've got to do it.

Q. In retrospect, do you have any regrets over moving Ron Artest?

A. No. We fell in love with talent. I liked Ronnie as a person but it was time to go.

Q. Is the message that the team will be on a shorter leash next season?

A. Yes. The leash, the noose is getting tighter. We have to. It was a frustrating year for our fans, our management team and our team. I don't like a lot of the things I saw out there and it's got to change.

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"I thought they would really come together (after Ron Artest was traded) but they didn't."

Q. Why didn't the chemistry improve after Artest was traded?

A. I just think the frustration of the time it took us to get somebody in here. The players will use every excuse. Then the trading deadline came and they were all worrying about getting traded. We've pretty much assured them we're going to try to keep the core of the team together. .. I'm not going to blame everything on Ronnie. I knew we had a few more problems. Did I think they would come together? Yeah, I thought they would really come together then but they didn't.

Q. Why not be more aggressive about changing the roster now?

A. Making changes is a little harder than you think it is. You've got to have somebody on another team that wants to give you something good for what they're getting. Yeah, you can make trades every day. You can take one of your better players and go get some CBA players, but that ain't how it works. I'm willing to step back, which we are right now, to move forward but I couldn't stand winning 35 games a year and knowing you'd be lucky to do that. That's not my nature. I want to win every game.

Q. How difficult was it to replace Reggie Miller's presence?

A. You can't just have one guy and say, 'OK, you're going to take his place' because that doesn't happen. With Reggie being here 18 years, that was something special. And when he's gone, you miss him being around, you miss his influence on the players. Not one guy can do that. It's got to be a team. On our team, Jermaine tried to step up to be the leader, the captain, but it takes more than that. Austin's been here a long time, Jeff Foster's been here a long time. It takes a bunch of guys because it doesn't happen overnight.