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Is there a timetable on your decision on whether to return?
The way me and Mr. Simon's been handling this, we wanted to wait till after the season, get together, sit down, talk about a few things and basically go from there. The big question of mine to him is, "Now we have the money, are we going to be able to spend it? We waited three years to get to this point, now what can we do? What are you going to let us do?" There's a lot of questions that are going to be asked and I want to see what direction he wants to go.
If Herb is on board with what you believe going forward, does that seal the deal?
Well, there's a lot of different questions I want to ask him and get his take on everything and see how he feels about the direction of the team, have a lot of input on it, go back and forth and just make a decision right after I talk to him.
Do you know when that's going to happen?
I talked to him last night and hopefully we'll get together in the next week or two.
What are your thoughts on Frank Vogel's performance?
I think Frank did an excellent job, stepping in without the experience of a head-coaching job and the way he conducted himself, he brought positive energy to this team. We won more games than we lost, he did it with a young team, a team that's trying to grow. We went through a period where we won a lot of games, then we lost some and at the end of the season he got 'em back and they probably performed as well in the playoffs as they did in any part of the season and that's a good sign.
Will you wait until your status is determined before moving forward with interviewing coaching candidates?
I would like to settle this today so we can get moving here but I do have an owner. I have a boss and he wants me to go through the draft. Hopefully in the next week or two I can find out what's going on and we can get some things done. We've got a lockout looming and it's really on his timetable. I hate to throw him under the bus like that but it is what it is.
Given Vogel's performance, can you envision a future without him?
I'm sure Frank's going to have some interviews and I want to interview a couple of guys. It's a process but we're going to go through it. I think Frank did an excellent job. Obviously, I said he's going to have the first interview and the last interview. I was very impressed with a lot of things he did. He grew along with our players. It's just a situation where he's a free agent and there's some other free agents out there and we're going to talk to a few people and make a decision and hopefully it's a quick decision.
Looking back, do you feel you've accomplished what you set out to do here?
When I took over three years ago and Donnie left, we both knew this was going to be a great challenge. We were sitting at around $76 million, we were a $6 million tax-payer and we had some assets we felt like we might be able to trade. We knew moving forward for three years we weren't going to have any money. If we had a $100 million payroll, it's a lot easier. So we're trying to build a team through the draft without any money. We got Dahntay Jones for his contract, but we (cut) $5 million somewhere else. That's how we had to do it. I'm not satisifed with how we did overall but obviously we're moving in the right direction and now we're down to where we have a lot of cap space and we've just got to use it the right way. We're in a great situation here. We do have some young talent that obviously they've got to get better as they grow, but we're in position where we can be a player in the free agent market. I know the type of players I'd like to get, it's just a matter of if we can get 'em.
Is there anything holding you back that says "Maybe I don't want to do this? Maybe I want to be down in Florida on the beach?"
Why's it got to be Florida all the time? (Laughter) Here's the thing, and I think about this a lot. When you're in a position for a period of time, sometimes do they need a new direction, a new voice? I don't know if they do or not. I know the last three years have been very tough. I actually like all my players. They're fun to be around. We had some issues this year that I addressed yesterday to each one of them but they're excited and I'm excited for them. My decision will be based on my decision with Mr. Simon. If I like what I hear I'll probably be back. But if there's some things he sees in the job performance I did and he's not comfortable with it, it might be time for a new voice.
Could the unsettled NBA labor situation wreck your plans for the team this offseason?
I don't know. I don't know what the rules are going to be. I can only sense that it's going to help us, no matter what happens. But I don't know the rules. If I knew the rules, I could tell you. I just hope they can come to an agreement in a short period of time.
Are you saying this is not the ideal time for you to be leaving?
I don't know. This is really not about me. It's about the franchise and I want to do what's right for the franchise. I've always said there's 30 jobs like I have and I think it's the best job you could possibly have. Yeah, there's some ups and downs but I've been in this business for 31 years, I know a little bit about it, I enjoy it, I love the games and I really love the playoffs for some reason and I really like my players. I've seen them grow. I know we have a lot of holes we have to fill but we're in a situation now where we can do it. I don't know if we can do it all next year but we've got to continue to get pieces and put this thing together. Our ultimate goal is to get back to being competitive for the Eastern Conference championship and I'm very high on a lot of our players. I think in the draft we'll be lucky enough to get another great player and just continue to build this. It'd be nice if there was no lockout and we could get this thing done this summer but unfortunately it looks like there's going to be one.
What are your plans for your own free agents, specifically Jeff Foster, Mike Dunleavy and Josh McRoberts?
We've got T.J. (Ford), we've got a lot of guys. I don't know yet. We're going to look at everything. I like all my guys. Some will probably be back and some won't. It's according to what we do in free agency.
If you don't come back, do you feel it's right to work through the draft, or should the new guy be able to come in and pick his team moving forward?
I do but I have an owner. He wants me to do it and he's paying me till August so I'll do what he tells me to do. But I do think if you're going to make a change, you need to do it right away. He needs to be in control of the draft and he needs to pick his coach.
You mentioned liking your players and that wasn't always the case in the past. Was that because you were able to make moves to build a positive locker room?
One of our problems this year (was) we didn't have a positive locker room all year. I addressed that with some players yesterday. They understood. They know I'm not happy about it and we're going to make some changes there. I've been in this league for so long, I know in your locker room you don't have to hug and kiss each other every time you come in. It doesn't work that way. But you've got to respect one another. You've got to be professional about the way you do your business. And I expect that out of my players. We addressed all that. The guys said they understand and it'll never happen again. But I came back and said, "If it does happen and I'm here, you won't be here." We're not having that anymore. I think it cost us some games this year and it's going to be interesting because there are some guys that need to grow up and be professional about their job.
Aside from the willingness to spend money, are there any other issues of concern you need to address with Mr. Simon?
It's going to make my job a lot tougher. It's going to make the next guy's job a lot tougher. I understand our situation here with the Pacers the last three years. We've lost a lot of money. I know that Mr. Simon doesn't want to jump back in there and be up against the tax again right away. But we've got to be selective in who we draft and who we go get in free agency. I understand all that. But if you're going to be competitive in this league and you're in a situation to be competitive, you've got to take advantage of it.
What positions would you like to target to upgrade the team?
That's hard for me to do but if you watch our team play and you know a little bit about our game, you know what we need. It's pretty simple. We have a lot of young players. I look at them and you always say they've got to improve and they've got to get stronger. I don't think Hansbrough's got to get any stronger. I don't think Lance has got to get any stronger. I don't think Danny's got to get any stronger, or Jeff. But the rest of the kids have got to do things to improve. If you really watch our team a couple times a week or you go to our practices, you know exactly what we need. It's not fair for me to get into the positions because when the season starts everybody's going to be fighting for that power spot or that center spot and the guys that come in are going to have to work for it. But we are in good position and we've got to take advantage of it.
Lance Stephenson was the focal point of many of the locker room problems you mentioned. Is it a matter of him growing up or the players respecting him more?
I'm not going to sit here and blame it all on Lance. The one thing we don't have in there is a leader. If I played with Lance I would have no problem. I know Lance Stephenson can play basketball and I would do everything in my power to get him on the court because if he's on the court and he's one of our better players, he wins games for us. I also know that Lance is very immature. I've got a son the same age and it's not all roses every day at the house, either. I'm not giving up on Lance Stephenson. Now, if he does something in the summertime you can always go back and change your mind. But as of right now Lance Stephenson is one heck of a basketball player and I expect him to grow, I expect him to get better and I expect him to do the things necessary to get on the basketball court for us. If he does that, we're going to win basketball games. He's one of the most talented kids we have. But there's some issues there and it's not only him. We've got some veterans in our locker room that were a pain and I addressed that yesterday and we're not having it anymore. It's not like our locker room was a mess every day but off and on different times. When you have 15 players, there's going to be three guys that don't dress. Early in the season, guys didn't know if they were going to be sitting out or if they were going to play. Under Frank, we sort of knew the three guys who weren't going to dress. I think guys knew their roles. I think there was a lot more communication. The last 25-30 games I think Frank did a good job of letting the players know where they stood. But Lance Stephenson is one heck of a basketball player and I say it, I see it every day and I'm not giving up on the young man.
If the NCAA moves up the date for college underclassmen to withdraw from the draft, how does it affect your evaluation process?
It always affects it. There's some young men I thought were definitely going to be in the draft and they didn't even apply for it. There's one of them that pulled out that I was going to take. So it affects everything we do.
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Have you talked about your future with Larry Bird yet?
No, we haven't had that first interview yet. We haven't discussed my situation yet.
Do you feel you deserve the job?
I still think that's something that should be discussed between Larry and myself, not through the media right now. We'll sit down with Larry and see what the best direction for the Pacers is.
What are your feelings about this whole process?
An amazing opportunity, something I've thoroughly enjoyed, not just from my own experience getting to sit in that seat as a head coach. But just watching these guys come together, young players developing the confidence to succeed in the NBA and more importantly 15 guys coming together as a team wa sa very, very rewarding experience for me.
Can you give us your best pitch for staying?
I've got a great deal of confidence in my ability to coach. It's one thing I've learned over the last three months, that I can do this. I'm confident in my leadership abilities, my management abilities, my coaching abilities. It's been an honor to have these last three months, it would be an honor to coach the team in the future.
Would you like to get the decision made quickly, considering there are other job openings around the league?
It's really up to Larry and our front office. Whatever they decide. Any time you're making a decision as important as this you never want to rush into it. Whatever timetable they decide is fine with me.
What are the team's big needs?
If I'm able to stay, that's something that we're going to be very creative in examining all possibilities. I don't think there's one position where we say, "We really need this position." I think we've got great options at all five positions and depth at all five positions. To have the flexibility that we have with our salary cap is just something that we've got a lot of great options and we'll explore them all.
Did you have a chance to address the team after Game 5? If so, what was the message?
I didn't address them as a team. I met with them all individually yesterday. My message to all of them was that very rarely do you stay in the same spot in this league. You either get better or you get worse. If you think there's not someone else at your position, or another team that's not working harder than we are, then you're wrong. If you're not getting better, your getting worse, so go into this summer understanding we're all so young but there's no guarantees for improvement. Just because we took this step doesn't mean we're going to take the next step or even that we're going to stay where we're at. We've got to be hungrier this summer than we've ever been.
How did the team bounce back from its lull to put together its run late in the season and the playoffs?
I think when you have a young team that hasn't quite gotten over the hump yet, you deal with adversity and in this case the adversity came in the form of a brutal Texas trip, Oklahoma City, a couple of back-to-backs. We hit a very tough stretch in the schedule. We wanted to do better in that stretch. I think we lost six in a row or eight out of nine or something like that. It's just a matter of believing in yourself and understanding there's going to be bumps in the road. Every team goes through them. The Miami Heat were going through a similar stretch at the same time. The Lakers went through it earlier in the year. Every team in the NBA throughout the course of an 82-game season goes through those stretches, and we're good enough to get through it and we will get through it. At the time, we had lost a couple to some sub-.500 teams and we were approaching a stretch where we were playing I think five straight against teams with winning records. My message at the point was competition has a way of raising the level of your play and it worked out that way.
How much do you believe your future is linked with that of Larry Bird?
Obviously, if he's not the decision-maker then things could change, for better or worse, who knows? It depends who would come in. I think this organization needs Larry Bird more than it needs anyone and I'm hopeful that he stays on.
Did Danny Granger make the strides as a defender this season?
Absolutely. I think he took a lot of steps in terms of owning his individual defense, his team defense. Obviously it was not always perfect. No one's is. But he definitely had more of a focus this year and definitely improved.
When do you expect to discuss your future with Larry Bird?
I really don't know. It's completely up to them and whatever timetable they decided I'm completely comfortable with. You don't want to rush into anything. You've got to let the dust settle, you've got to take a step back and evaluate everything with a clear mind.
Is it hard being patient under these circumstances?
One of my personal best attributes that I've been blessed with is patience. I'm a patient guy.
How was this experience different than what you expected?
I expected to succeed. I expected the changes I was going to implement would work. I feel like they did. I thought it fell in line with what my expectations were when I took over. I believed in the young guys we have on the team, that if we went with them, the way we utilized them and changed our style of play, I believed it would work and I think it did work. I was hopeful it would've worked better, to be honest with you. I think we could've made a serious run this year and I think this group has a high ceiling for what they can achieve in the future.
Would you like to stay?
I would love to stay. Not only would I love to be a head coach again but this organization in particular I've fallen in love with even before I became a head coach. I love the community that I live in in Carmel, the village of West Clay, our neighborhood. We've really been embraced here. This is where I want to raise my family. I would really love the opportunity to stay here.
If you walked away tomorrow, what would be your stamp on this team?
Just getting some of the young guys to believe in themselves and understand they can do it at this level. And the fact that we came together as a team and that doesn't always happen in the NBA, or college, or whatever basketball you're talking about. It doesn't always happen where guys pull for each other, genuinely care for each other, fight for each other, work for each other and really just come together as a team in the true sense of the word. That's probably what I'm most proud of with this group.
Upon reflection is there anything you would've done differently?
There's a lot I would do differently. Every time you lose a game you feel like you should do something differently. If we don't score down the stretch I feel like I should've called a different play. If we do get scored on I feel like I should've guarded a different way. I look at myself more than any of our players, more than any of our front office, more than anything. I'm probably my hardest critic.
What does Roy Hibbert need to do in order to become a consistent force?
He just has to stay hungry. With all our players we talked about specific things that need to be worked on but I'm not going to get into specific things. He just needs to stay hungry and get hungrier. He had a great offseason last year and it led to some improvement but every player in the league is going to get better or is going to get worse. If he doesn't have the same mindset that he has got to be every bit as hungry he can take a step back. I have confidence that he'll remain as hungry as he is. He's a very driven kid and he wants to be great and he's going to be an All-Star some day.
While you and Larry wait to see what happens next, so do the fans. What do you tell them?
First I tell them thank you because I hear the support and I'm so grateful that they've gotten behind this team the way they have and the way they've supported me personally. My message to the fans is it's the right thing to do to take a step back, evaluate with a clear mind and trust in Larry Bird. He's not Larry Legend because of his physical abilities to play basketball. He's got a great basketball mind and he's the one that should be making the decisions and whatever he decides is going to be what's best for the Indiana Pacers.