Bird on Offseason Moves

July 14, 2015 - Pacers President Larry Bird talks about the team's busy offseason, specifically signing Monta Ellis and Jordan Hill and trading for Chase Budinger.

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Bird on Offseason Moves

July 14, 2015 - Pacers President Larry Bird talks about the team's busy offseason, specifically signing Monta Ellis and Jordan Hill and trading for Chase Budinger.
Jul 14, 2015  |  01:46

Monta Ellis: "It's all about winning"

June 14, 2015 - Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss talks with new Pacers guard Monta Ellis about why he chose to come to Indiana.
Jul 14, 2015  |  02:56

Jordan Hill: "I have a lot more to give"

July 14, 2015 - Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss talks with Jordan Hill about coming to Indiana and what he expects to accomplish this season.
Jul 14, 2015  |  03:57

Chase Budinger: "I felt like this was a great fit for me"

July 14, 2015 - Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss talks to Chase Budinger about being traded to Indiana and what he expects to bring to the team this season.
Jul 14, 2015  |  02:23

Getting to Know Monta Ellis

July 14, 2015 - Pacers.com's Pat Boylan chats with Indiana's new guard, Monta Ellis.
Jul 14, 2015  |  04:29

Getting to Know Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger

July 14, 2015 - Pacers.com's Pat Boylan chats with new Pacers Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger about their careers and being reunited in Indiana.
Jul 14, 2015  |  05:44

Monta Ellis: 2014-15 Season Highlights

July 14, 2015 - Check out these highlights from new Pacers guard Monta Ellis' 2014-15 season with the Dallas Mavericks.
Jul 14, 2015  |  01:52

Jordan Hill: 2014-15 Season Highlights

July 14, 2015 - Check out these highlights from new Pacers forward Jordan Hill's 2014-15 season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jul 14, 2015  |  02:00

Bird on Paul George's Health, Team USA

July 14, 2015 - Larry Bird discusses Paul George's health, his future with USA Basketball, and the possibility of him playing power forward next season.
Jul 14, 2015  |  01:44

Bird on Rookies' Play in Summer League

July 17, 2015 - Pacers president Larry Bird talks about his impressions of the team's rookies, Myles Turner and Joe Young, after watching them play in Summer League.
Jul 14, 2015  |  00:55

Pacers Present Their Makeover

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

After two weeks of a moratorium on conversation and a general lack of availability, the floodgates opened on Tuesday.

Three new Pacers players – Monta Ellis, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger – and team president Larry Bird all made their way to the media room in Bankers Life Fieldhouse to face the microphones and an onslaught of questions. Their responses created a rushing stream of information that perhaps washed away some of the doubts fans have about an off-season that has transformed the team far more than Bird expected.

PHOTO GALLERY: Pacers Announce Free Agent Signings »

Ellis, Hill and Budinger are in, and likely to be starting or in the playing rotation. Draft picks Myles Turner and Joe Young are signed, too, and likely to get meaningful minutes as well. David West, Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Damjan Rudez are now members of other teams, while Chris Copeland and Donald Sloan have not been re-signed.

Thus the irony of Bird's opening comment.

"I don't like to make a lot of changes – never have," he said.

The massive makeover hinged mostly on West's decision to opt out of the final year of his contract. With the power forward gone, the need to shift the offense into a higher gear was amplified beyond what Bird wanted to do anyway. It also made Hibbert, a classic low-post center, all the more expendable. Bird was looking for fit, and the connotation of what fit had changed.

"Everything we did this summer was because of (West's) decision," Bird said.

No doubt about it, the next version of the Pacers will be smaller, play faster and probably score more. It's a drastic departure from the unit that went to the Eastern Conference finals in 2013 and '14 because of an outstanding defense and a balanced, controlled halfcourt offense, but it's one Bird welcomes. He's looking for six or eight more points per game, and is willing to sacrifice a few more at the defensive end to get them. And the goal remains to make the playoffs.

"I felt we had to get up and down the court a little faster and make it more exciting for our fans," Bird said. "It's going to be fun."

The three veteran newcomers hope so. None were in particularly happy situations last season. Hill (Lakers) and Budinger (Minnesota) played on losing teams, and Ellis played on an eighth-seeded Western Conference team (Dallas) from which there was a mutual parting when he opted out of his contract. Ellis and Hill were free agents and Budinger was traded for a player with a lesser salary (Rudez).

The general thought is that NBA players gravitate to the major markets, where the nightlife is better and the endorsement opportunities greater. Ellis and Hill, however, are eager to move to a smaller city where they can get some peace and quiet. Ellis grew up in Jackson, Miss., and Hill in Newberry, S.C. Both love the serenity that goes with fishing, along with the concept of being out of the media's glare as often as possible.

Ellis is quiet and introspective to the point of sometimes being called "moody." He thinks before responding, and doesn't go for the sound-bite answer. But his face lights up when he's asked about fishing.

He made only one visit as a free agent, to Indianapolis. He and his wife, Juanika, had dinner at the Capitol Grille with Bird, general manger Kevin Pritchard and coach Frank Vogel, where they made him feel wanted.

"That's all I ever wanted, to be appreciated for what I can do and bring to the table," he said. "I always wanted to feel wanted and they made me feel wanted."

There was something else, too.

"What else sold me, they have nice fishing spots here," he said.

"It's easier to get to . They had great spots in Dallas to fish, but they were so out, you could never get to them. After a hard day of work or a stressful day, I can break off and clear my mind."

The lure for Ellis is that it allows him to get away and be silent.

"It's peaceful," he said. "Even if I don't catch anything, I just like how the water (he made a hand movement like a gentle wave), the breeze, the relaxation, all of it.

"It gives you a moment to think, about what you can do better, what you need to do to get better. It's all about relaxing and opening your mind to yourself."

Ellis is above all else a scorer, a player who, as Bird put it, "can get his shot." He has a 19.3 career scoring average, and has averaged as high as 25.5 points for Golden State in 2009-10. He once scored 48 points in a game and was Dallas' leading scorer last season (18.9), ending the 15-year run of Dirk Nowitizki.

He is not much of a defender, though. He gambles in the passing lanes – something Bird sees as a potential asset – but is not the guy to try to contain a scoring threat.

"He's not a great defensive player, we know that, but the pluses outweigh the minuses," Bird said.

Ellis is not an accurate three-point shooter (just .285 last season) but is a willing clutch shooter known for hitting game-winning shots.

"I just love those moments," he said. "When the time comes, I'm more focused. I just love those type of situations. I can live with making it or missing it. If we lose, we didn't lose just because of that shot."

Ellis turns 30 on Oct. 26, but has been durable. He only played 25 games in 2008-09 because of an ankle injury suffered while riding a motorbike, but otherwise has rarely missed a game. He played in all but two over the last three seasons for Dallas and Milwaukee.

"I love basketball so much it's hard for me to watch it on the sidelines," he said. "If I can walk I can play."

Ellis has had strained relationships with some of his coaches, and some controversies along the way, but says he's come a long way from the young man who entered the NBA straight out of high school in 2005.

Asked how his game has changed over the years, he went deeper.

"I've gotten older and wiser with the decisions that I made, what I say, how I carry myself," he said. "When I had my son (in 2009) and named him after me, it made me change my whole perspective on life. I'm to a point now I don't want to do anything to jeopardize his name, because he's named after me. My change is based on life experiences, not basketball."

Jordan Hill Enjoys the Simple Life

Hill averaged 12 points and 7.9 rebounds last season, the first in which he started a majority of the games (57), but the Lakers did not pick up the option on his contract because they were creating as much salary cap room as possible to sign an elite free agent – which they weren't able to do.

Hill, whose agent advised him to sign a one-year deal so he can take advantage of the increased salary cap next summer, looks forward to maintaining a fast pace on the court but getting to a slower one off of it. A self-described "country boy," he never felt comfortable in Los Angeles, where he played the last three seasons, or for that matter in Houston or New York, where he began his NBA career after being drafted eighth by former Knicks president Donnie Walsh in 2009.

"There was a lot going on," he said of his time with the Lakers. "I tried to make the best of it. I tried to be careful where I go and what I do. The cameras are on you coming out of the bathroom. I was there a couple years and still didn't get used to it. I feel this will settle me down and have me concentrating more on basketball."

Hill, 6-10 and 235 pounds, is a likely starter next season on a revamped front line. He's a steady three-point shooter and, according to Budinger, his teammate at Arizona, a dangerous scorer around the basket, too.

"He's a great athlete and a great rebounder, especially on the offensive end," Budinger said. "He can really go after it on the offensive end. And he's got one of the best hook shots from around eight feet. If he's going right hand to the middle, it's almost automatic every time."

Hill will have instant friends in Budinger and Solomon Hill, who also played at Arizona, and should hit it off at least with Ellis, George Hill and George, too, given their common interest.

"I love to fish," Hill said. "I have a pond in my backyard (25 miles outside of Atlanta). The fish are everywhere."

Healthy Budinger Hungry to Win

Budinger doesn't care to fish, but he looks forward to getting back to a winning environment after three losing seasons in Minnesota. He also looks forward to getting back to normal after two knee surgeries. He missed 59 games in 2012-13 with a lateral tear in his meniscus, suffered in a game at Chicago, and then 41 the following season after a second procedure. He played in 67 games last season, and finished strong as he knee gradually recovered.

Over the final 17 games in which he played, he averaged 14.4 points while shooting .497 from the field, .415 from the three-point line and .870 from the foul line.

He believes the knee issues are behind him.

"They feel great," he said. "It took time for them to get comfortable again, to get that strength back. This past year I was healthy and had no problems with it. Throughout the year it kept getting better. I feel like my athleticism is coming back. My whole goal is to get back to where I was."

That would be where he was in Houston, where he averaged just under 10 points off the bench for three seasons and was known for his athleticism. He was a close runner-up in the 2012 Slam Dunk Contest behind Jeremy Evans.

Budinger (pronounced like "buddy" and with a hard G) expected to be traded this summer, although not to Indiana until his agent began hearing from the Pacers last week. He, like Hill, who signed a one-year deal, will be in a contract year.

"I'm not really thinking of it like that," he said. "For me, it's about winning. The more the team does well, the better you'll benefit from it as a player."

Rookies Earn Rave Reviews

Bird said he was "very impressed" with rookies Myles Turner and Joe Young in Summer League play in Orlando.

"I think they have a great opportunity to do well in this league," he said. "I have to admit, Myles is a little better than I thought he was. Watching all the tape, you still don't get to see it up close. He's got a talent that we don't have here. He's going to play a lot of minutes. Joe was spectacular. He puts the ball in the hole."

Young signed his contract on Tuesday. According to media reports, the first two two years are guaranteed, a rarity for a second-round draft pick.

The Pacers still have a mid-level exception and some room under the salary cap, so further roster moves are not out of the question.

"You never know," Bird said. "If something opens up and we have room, we'll get him and bring him in."

PG at Power Forward?

Bird repeated his belief that Paul George can flourish at power forward next season. George has played shooting guard or small forward throughout his career, and has indicated some hesitation about playing major minutes at a so-called power forward position. That position could become a non-entity in the Pacers' new offense, though.

"He don't make the decisions around here," Bird joked. "I did it. I loved it after I did it. I just think offensively it will be one of the greatest feelings he's ever had. I'm not going to get in a battle with Paul George where he wants to play. He can play anywhere you put him out there.

"I always liked to get down there and bang with the guys instead of chasing everybody all the time. Coming off his injury (a broken leg suffered last Aug. 1), I think it will be a good year to try it. He can guard some threes but won't have to do it every time. I think it will be a big plus for him and our team."

Bird said he doesn't believe George will have to bulk up to guard bigger players.

"I weighed 225 pounds," he said. "I didn't say I played it great, but at least I played it and I'm still walking around. I think it's overrated. If you look around the league like I did and go through every team, it's not as bad as you think it is (regarding the number of physical power forwards). He'll do fine."

A Note on Solomon Hill and Summer League

Bird acknowledged the sub-par play of veteran Solomon Hill in the Summer League, but isn't overly worried.

"He didn't play well; his numbers weren't good," Bird said. "He did some nice things on the defensive end, but I'm sure he's disappointed in how he played. But it's Summer League. When camp starts we'll see how he fits in."

Bird was reminded of the play of Jalen Rose, who volunteered to play in Summer League play near Atlanta after Bird was hired as the Pacers' coach in 1997. Rose played poorly, appearing to feel uncomfortable with younger, less-established talent.

"We almost cut him," Bird said, jokingly. "I'm glad we didn't.

"Solo wanted to play. I was a little disappointed in the fact I don't think he took it serious at first. His shot wasn't falling. He had some great practices here, though; he looked really good in practice."

Bird Bids West Farewell

Bird had expressed confidence in West returning to the Pacers after meeting with him in the post-season exit interview, but said Tuesday he wasn't surprised by West's decision to opt out of his contract.

"Nothing surprises me in this league," Bird said. "I can remember they wanted the option and we gave it to him and we knew there could be an opportunity he wouldn't be here. Well, I guess it's not an opportunity but he made the decision.

"It is what it is. We deal with it. We thank David for everything he did here. He helped us tremendously. He turned this franchise around, with some help from the other ones. It is what it is. Now we're moving on."


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