May 26, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird watches the game against the Miami Heat in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 102-90. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Bird Is Committed to the Pacers´Core


The 2014 NBA offseason kicked off Thursday night with one of the more talent-packed drafts in recent memory. After trading away the 27th overall pick to Phoenix for veteran forward Luis Scola last July, the Pacers were left with only the 57th pick in this year’s promising draft.

Seeing nobody he liked, however, team president Larry Bird decided to make some quick cash by selling the pick to the Knicks, which selected French forward Louis Laberiye.

You couldn’t expect much from a pick that late in the draft, but trading it away in the end was the perfect way to close a rather lackluster draft, for the Pacers, anyway.

Bird addressed the media after the quiet night was over, opening with his typical candor. “Well, that was a waste of two weeks,” he said.

Bird also said how he did not want to waste a pick on someone they would probably cut within the coming weeks and selling the pick was just the best option, whether team owner Herb Simon likes it or not.

And really, this was his best move.

To re-sign Lance Stephenson, the Pacers will have to toe dangerously close to next year´s luxury tax threshold — a salary level that it is presumed Simon will not authorize Bird to cross for any reason.

But the Pacers do have a few ways to save a million or two dollars here and there by using some collective bargaining agreement quirks. (Explained more here, but essentially it means waiving Luis Scola and/or using the so-called stretch provision.)

Using those quirks, though, will cost the team a bit of money. It isn´t money that affects the salary cap, but it is a real million or two dollars that Simon has to pay.

Thus, by scoring some quick cash from the Knicks, it may be easier for Bird to convince Simon to let him use all the tools at his disposal to clear extra cap room. Essentially, it should be a lot easier to say, “Hey, boss, can I make a move that will cost you a million dollars?” if you just made your boss a million dollars last week.

By selling the pick, Bird bought himself a bit of wiggle room.

After fielding draft questions, Bird talked about free agency.

Although a 56-win season that ended in the conference finals may be acceptable, it ended badly and the whole second half of the year is something the whole state of Indiana wants to forget about.

We still don’t know what caused Indiana’s downfall (although we have our theories), but what we do know is that team was pretty darn good for the first few months of the season, and getting back to that and playing like that consistently throughout the year is definitely a place Bird wants his team to be next season.

Breaking up the core in order to find a player more suited for the point guard position than George Hill as well as adding some solid bench players was an option the Pacers front office had to have looked at after the team’s collapse this past season, but Bird feels this core deserves one more shot.

“I’m pretty set with our core group,” Bird said via Mark Montieth of Pacers.com. ¨I’m going to give them another shot. They almost got there two years in a row and I think they deserve another shot.”

Fans may not like this after what the team showed in the latter part of last season, but there were a lot of factors that played into their situation that may be resolved now.

Any beef between the core guys seems to be in the past, and any tension between Evan Turner and Lance Stephenson  no longer matters since the team doesn’t seem interested in bringing Turner back.

After being left off the All-Star ballots last season, Stephenson seemed to become self-centered on the court and attempted to prove the coaches who didn’t vote him onto the All-Star team wrong.

Stephenson limited his flashy passing that led to multiple triple-doubles throughout the year to have the ball in his hands longer, hoping to make some crazy play that ended in a score. It worked sometimes, but it also caused the Pacers offense to become stagnant which was simply horrific to watch.

Stephenson also got some attention in the Eastern Conference Finals after stating he “got in LeBron’s head,” which completely backfired and fueled LeBron’s game. And then, of course, there’s the blowing in the ear thing and other on-court antics, but Bird believes that is stuff that Lance will understand is unacceptable if he returns.

Bird didn’t like any of that and last night he blamed himself for remaining distant with Stephenson throughout the season and letting him do his own thing. He said he wanted to not meddle in team affairs, but now realizes he should have stepped in. Bird wants to remain closer with Lance, which should keep his head in the game and out of the gutter.

But, of course, you’ve got to re-sign the guy first, which could cause some issues. Bird wants Lance back, and Lance says he wants to be back, so that’s not the issue.

The issue is the money.

Bird apparently has a very fair contract he will offer Stephenson, which obviously has to keep Indiana under the luxury tax threshold.

Assuming Stephenson is re-signed, the starting five that has been to two straight ECF will be back. Despite media speculation of the Pacers possibly upgrading at point guard, Bird seems to be happy with Hill — for now.

Something that’s helping Hill’s case is the fact that he has been a gym junkie so far this offseason, according to Bird (who said the same about Stephenson).

“I think George Hill’s going to be a better basketball player,” said Bird. “You just don’t work that hard every day and not get better.”

When you put it that way, Larry, I guess he’s got to improve, right? But aside from his work ethic and physique, how can he improve his game this summer?

“I think George [Hill] plays his best when he’s aggressive with the ball,” said Bird. “When he’s driving, when he’s penetrating, when he’s kicking. He’s in there getting stronger.”

Anyone who has watched Hill´s tenure in Indiana knows he has a higher level than what he displayed at times last season. A game against Portland when he notched 37 points (on 12-for-19 shooting), 9 rebounds and 8 assists proves that.

The knock on Hill, though, is he doesn’t do this more often and can disappear for a week at a time. He obviously has the capability, he just plays too timidly and shies away from actually doing something with the ball when he has the chance.

If he is improving in the gym and can play more aggressively and consistently throughout the season, the idea of bringing back the core sounds better.

Like it or not, it’s looking like there won’t be too much change in Indiana this summer. Honestly, it was the only thing to be expected.

Simply looking at the team´s salary cap numbers and estimating the value of their assets on the trade market makes the choice to stay the course the obvious one. Their core, tradeable players are worth more to them than they are on the trade market, and there are no young players or enticing picks to offer other GMs. Nor do they have any cap room.

It was always presumed that little would change in Indiana this summer.

Bird all but confirmed it last night.

Tags: Indiana Pacers Larry Bird

  • Tenacious D.

    Contracts pretty much dictate things at this point unless we luck into a trade. But, my confidence in the front office is shaken. Our defense-first philosophy is misguided if we can’t get our offense into at least the top 15 in the league. Watching Kawhi Leonard get the finals MVP also dashed my faith in our evaluation of draft prospects. The kid is better now that Hill ever will be, and we’re paying Hill five times more. If I were Simon, I would fire someone over that decision.

    • Dylan Hughes

      You have to remember that the Spurs asked us to draft Leonard and he probably wouldn’t have ended up here anyway.

    • Andrew Alexander

      The Leonard trade hurts but there is a lot of hindsight bias going on there. Where was he supposed to play on that Pacers team with both Danny and PG needing heavy minutes? Also, who says he blossoms under Vogel instead of Pop. Pop is probably the best in the game at squeezing the most talent out of his players. There is no guarantee Leonard gets to that level under Vogel who hates playing his bench anyway. At the time it was viewed as a pretty even trade so it is pretty unfair to knock anybody for it now (as easy as it can be to do). Plus as far as draft evaluation goes, we probably got the 5th or 6th best player of the 2010 draft with pick #40. There have been some misses but with how late we have been picking recently that is expected.

    • Earl Malmsteen

      If you re-draft the 2011 draft, Kawhi would go at worst 3rd or 4th. If any team knew what he was going to become at the time of the draft, they would have drafted him. If you’re “firing someone” over that one, you would have to fire someone from almost half the teams in the league for failing to foresee something which was improbable.