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Scola, Bird Were Meant to Be

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

July 30, 2013 | 1:10 PM

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This was a marriage that seemed destined to happen. Two basketball stars, admirers of one another, bound to cross paths eventually.

Luis Scola had watched Larry Bird play on television as a kid in Argentina, informed by his father that Bird was one of the greatest to ever play the game, and so Bird became his favorite player. Bird had desired Scola's talents before Scola even entered the NBA six years ago at the age of 27, and had kept him in his thoughts since then.

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Now they're finally together with the Pacers – Scola as the new backup power forward who brings a starter's talent, a veteran's savvy and a rookie's enthusiasm for the dropped-in-his lap opportunity to compete for a championship, and Bird as the team president who brought him to a cold-weather city that brings back warm memories.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel knew all about the courtship. Bird didn't hide it from him.

“We've talked about Luis very frequently for quite some time,” Vogel said Tuesday. “It's exciting to be able to bring him here. In years past we would have had to give up a ton to get him, so we weren't able to do that. But the effort's been there. It's great to see us be able to acquire him.”

Finally, the Pacers didn't have to come up with a “ton” to get Scola. They got him from Phoenix for two players – Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee – who weren't likely to play much next season and next year's first-round draft pick, which is lottery-protected and likely to be a late-round selection. It's a transaction widely regarded as a major victory for the Pacers, one that significantly improves their bench and upholds their locker room culture, but also one that fits the Suns' youth-oriented rebuilding plan.

Scola was well aware of the dynamics of the deal, and grateful to be moved to a team where a 33-year-old can legitimately chase a championship ring before time runs out.

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“(The Suns) aren't going to be good anytime soon, in terms of fighting for a championship,” he said when meeting with local reporters on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse floor. “By the time they're really, really solid and they build what they want to build, I'll probably be out of business.”

That's another reason the deal is a match made in hoops heaven for Scola and Bird. Neither has much more than a few years left in his current position. Bird said he'll fulfill the contract he signed in June after a year's sabbatical, but has always indicated he doesn't plan a Donnie Walsh-like long-term tenure. Scola is 33, the oldest player on the team by four months over the player he'll back up, David West. He said Tuesday he'll play as many years as a team will have him, but he knows he doesn't have many left.

“The older you are, the more you know this is all about winning,” he said. “Nobody really cares what you do on a bad team or the numbers you have if you're never playing in the playoffs. It's all about winning and I know that. The older I am, the more I believe that. I have a chance to win now and I'm happy.”

Scola became a Pacer on Saturday, when the trade was announced, arrived in Indianapolis from Argentina on Monday, when he met with Bird and other team officials for the first time and was introduced to the media on Tuesday. Still, he already appears to be a plug-and-play fit for his new team. He has a keen sense of humor and an accommodating nature, and, oh yeah, brings starting-caliber talent to what was shaping up to be the team's greatest weakness.

The only potential problem would seem to be the adjustment he'll have to make to coming off the bench. He's started 410 of the 468 games he's played in the NBA, playing as a backup 43 times as a rookie with Houston and 15 times last season with Phoenix. He's a major star in his home country, and views himself as a starter in the NBA, but trading a starting slot for a chance to win a championship is a fair exchange in his mind.

It seemed appropriate, then, that he talked with the media while seated on the Pacers' bench.

“I respect David a lot,” Scola said. “I think he's a great player. He was here before and I'm not here to break anything that the team has. I know the team has a great chemistry. I'm not going to be the guy who breaks that. I'm very happy to be doing an important role on a good team, regardless of whether it's starting or off the bench. I'm going to work very, very hard to be one of those players who makes a difference from the bench.”

Scola brings career averages of 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds. He's hit 50 percent of his field goal attempts and 75 percent of his foul shots. He's regarded as a good passer. He has a variety of post moves, and can knock down mid-range jumpers with mind-numbing regularity. The last time Scola played a game at the fieldhouse, against the Pacers last Dec. 28, West finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, while Scola finished with 12 points and six rebounds. That seems to summarize the difference between the two: minimal.

“He's one of the savviest offensive players that this game has ever seen at the power forward position,” Vogel said. “He's got all the fakes, great deception, great passing, the ability to stretch the floor with his shooting, he's very active on the glass. He's a winning player. And he's a proven winner. He's just a complete basketball player who will contribute to this team winning at a high level.”

Scola also gets points for his locker room maturity and leadership. The Pacers no longer seem to have anyone left who needs to be led, but he'll be appreciated all the same. If nothing else, he can be the leader of the second unit.

Scola has played in just 19 NBA playoff games, with Houston in 2008 and '09, which is indicative of the wrong-place-wrong-time nature of his career until now. His greatest moments have come with the Argentinian national team. He has a suitcase full of bronze, silver and gold medals from international play, including a gold medal from the 2004 Olympics. He won a silver medal in the 2002 FIBA World Championship played at The Fieldhouse, when Argentina lost to Yugoslavia in overtime in the final game.

It's a happy memory for Scola. But a fading one.

“It happened 11 years ago,” he said. “So I'm ready for some new memories from this arena.”

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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