New players signal change

Indianapolis, July 15, 2008 | Press Conference Transcript

The windows were closed Wednesday in Conseco Fieldhouse, but you could feel the breeze, anyway.

The winds of change officially had arrived.

Photographers needed wide-angle lenses to capture the moment. For there, in the Fuson-Collins Interview Room, were T.J. Ford, Maceo Baston, Jarrett Jack, Josh McRoberts, Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert.

New Pacers all.

And even that group shot still was incomplete. Rasho Nesterovic couldn’t make the second of two news conferences (he’s in Europe) to introduce the veterans acquired in trades and the two rookies – Rush and Hibbert – arriving via the draft.

Perhaps never in Pacers history has the team’s uniform provider had such a concentrated period of activity, stitching all those new names.

Certainly, it is too early to determine if this Indiana version of the Magnificent Seven will really be magnificent when the basketball begins to matter in the fall.

But in terms of attitude, outlook and fresh perspective, there is a feeling that is both palpable and powerful.

New Pacers (from L) Maceo Baston, Brandon Rush, T.J. Ford, Roy Hibbert, Josh McRoberts, Jarrett Jack. (Pacers Photo)

“We’ve talked about changing the culture here,” said Pacers President of Basketball Larry Bird. “These guys are the first step in that.”

Coach Jim O’ Brien said that last year, his voice was far too often the only voice being heard.

“People did not want to own their own team,” he said. “A good team is owned by the players.”

And it was clear in listening to the newly acquired veterans that they intend to invest themselves into that team ownership.

“This is a change for all of us and we want to be part of the change of view for the Indiana Pacers,” said Ford, the 6-foot guard who, along with Nesterovic, came in the deal from Toronto.

“We’re going to be surprising the NBA. We’re going to show ‘em that Pacer basketball is back.”

“We’re trying to bring some new, refreshing energy to Indiana and put a respectable product on the floor,” added Jack, the 6-3 guard who came from Portland.

Obviously, there is an awareness among the newcomers about the off-court issues that have plagued the Pacers during the past few years.

“We’re going to do it right by the community,” said Ford. “We’re going to be good citizens and good role models.”

“We’ll keep that outside stuff from infiltrating the team,” said Baston, the 6-10 forward who returns to the franchise he played 47 games for in 2006-07.

O’Brien looked and sounded like a coach in a hoops candy store. He can’t wait to begin dipping into his new talent jar.

“What Larry and David (General Manager David Morway) did across the board was a stroke of genius,” O’Brien said. “I think I read on where they said it was one of the most sophisticated changes in an organization in a long time.

“I’m very confident we have the type of people who will be proud to wear a Pacers uniform.”

Not to be overlooked is Nesterovic, the 7-foot, 270-pound center.

“He’s an underrated big man in this league,” O’Brien said. “He’ll compete for a starting job and he’s a key part of this.”

McRoberts, the 6-10 forward from nearby Carmel, played sparingly at Portland in his rookie year, which was divided with time in the developmental league. Then again, coming home might be just the springboard he needs.

“It seems surreal to be here,” McRoberts said. “It’s a great honor to be able to play as a Pacer.”

And isn’t that another reason for all the new faces – finding players who will be honored to wear the blue-and-gold and, hopefully, restore the honor that was part of the Indiana Pacers tradition for so many years.

The winds of change carry fresh air.

Bill Benner is a former sportswriter and columnist for The Indianapolis Star whose duties included covering the Pacers. He currently writes a weekly sports column for the Indianapolis Business Journal and hosts the Inside Indiana Sports segment on the weekly television program, Inside Indiana Business with Gerry Dick. Regular analyst Conrad Brunner is on vacation.