Trade talk, free agency, rookies Bird's talk-show topics

July 15, 2010

Larry Bird has been making the rounds on the talk-show circuit this week and the team president has stressed the same basic points at each stop.

  • Acquiring a point guard is still the top priority;
  • He won't mortgage the future of the franchise (or the team's hard-earned cap space next year) to make the aforementioned deal;
  • The Pacers haven't been active in free agency this summer because they don't have much wiggle room under the luxury tax, but remain in position to be liberal spenders next July;
  • All three draft picks impressed the coaching staff and front office during summer-league play, with second-rounder Lance Stephenson of particular interest because of his potential as a combo guard;
  • He would've preferred it had LeBron James remained in Cleveland but doesn't begrudge his seizing of the opportunity afforded by free agency, though he could've done without all the hoopla.
  • The point guard pursuit remains the hottest topic, though many of the names previously linked to the Pacers in trade rumors have moved elsewhere (including Raymond Felton to the Knicks and Jordan Farmar to the Nets). In recent weeks, there hasn't even been a rumor of a rumor involving the Pacers but Bird said he's still talking with various teams around the league.

    "We know what we want and obviously right now we're looking for a point guard," Bird told John Michael Vincent of 1070 The Fan on Tuesday. "We don't want just any point guard, we want a point guard that's going to lead this team in the future. We're being very careful about how we're looking at our strategy and if something comes up we really like, we'll pull the trigger."

    Bird told 1070's Dan Dakich he thinks "something will get done."

    "We're talking to a lot of people every day," he said. "I think something will get done. It's a long summer. We'll see what happens here in the next month or two.

    "We've been sitting here two years trying to get into the position we're in (with cap space in 2011). We're not going to overpay. We're not going to go out and get somebody that we don't see can take us into the future with what we have. We're going to be patient with it and we'll get something done."

    Even with the recent, surprising, announcement that the 2010-11 salary cap will be $58.044 million, with a luxury tax of $70.307 million – relatively minor increases but significant because teams around the league were bracing for the possibility of major cuts – the Pacers still are not in position to be players in this summer's free agent market.

    "A lot of times there's free agents out there and people are wondering why we don't go after them," he told Mark Patrick of WNDE. "Well, we can't. We can't afford it right now. That's why I'm trying to put this franchise in position to be able to do that. It'll be after next year. We'll be down to $28-30 million with 10 players we think we can move this franchise forward with.

    "The one thing we're not doing is giving away our all of assets to get down under the cap so we can go after certain players. We're just letting it happen naturally and when these guys' contracts are up we're going to have a core group of young players that we feel comfortable with and money we can use to round out our team."

    First-round pick Paul George and second-rounders Stephenson and Magnum Rolle all performed well at the Orlando Pro Summer League and it appears all three could figure prominently in the team's long-term plans. But it was the play of Stephenson, the 6-5 guard from Cincinnati, which sparked the most interest.

    "Lance is very talented," Bird told Dakich. "When these kids come in the league you always say they have to get stronger, which they do. Lance doesn't have to get much stronger. He plays a rough game, he's very competitive, he's got a high motor, very skilled."

    George and Rolle both do need to add some strength but were nevertheless solid in Orlando.

    "We also got Paul George, a very, very talented athlete. He needs to get stronger and needs to get a little bit better but he's got all the skill," Bird told Patrick. "We also got Magnum Rolle who we're very happy with, a long, lanky guy that plays hard at all times and has got a lot of talent. Those three guys are going to make an impact on our team as we go forward."

    As for the saga that led to the union of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, Bird had mixed feelings.

    "That's why we have free agency," he told Dakich. "When you get an opportunity to get an open market, anything can happen. I'm like a lot of people. I'd like to have seen LeBron stay in Cleveland but his desire was to go play with some great players and try to win championships. You've got to do what's best for yourself. He's a very, very talented young man, a great basketball player and he wanted to go play with Wade and Bosh. He had the ability to do that and he did it.

    "They'll be a great team but it's no guarantee they're going to win it next year."

    With JMV, Bird broached the topic of the ultimate what-if scenario from his playing days.

    "I remember back in my days, I'd rather play against Earvin Johnson than play with him," he said. "I know he's a great player and you always want to play with the best but I just loved to compete against him. He's a guy I always compared myself to. I'd rather stay in Boston and let him stay in L.A. and just compete every year in the Finals. That's what made me a better player. It would've been too easy if we played together."

    Bird stressed the importance of patience and sticking with the long-term plan in an interview with Mark Montieth on 1070's Big Joe (Staysniak) Show on Wednesday.

    "I know that next year is my last year of my deal," he said. "So I'm going to set this up as well as I can possibly set it, no matter what happens. I can't do anything to hurt this franchise. I'm just going to take this franchise and move it forward and whether it's me or someone else I want to make sure it's in good hands."

    Montieth then asked Bird if he wanted to stay on past next season.

    "I never really thought about it because Herbie (Simon) came to me one time and asked me and I just said, 'Let's just worry about that when the day comes','' said Bird. "I said I'm going to get this thing back on track and I'm committed to that. That's what I want to do and we'll just worry about that when the time comes."

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