“Red called me and traded my best friend on the team,” Bird said. “And of course I was upset about it until I found out who he traded him for. … When I found out he got traded for this one player I was happy. I said, ‘You’ve got to do that deal.’”
Bird didn’t reveal the specifics – that best friend, he said with a laugh, “is still alive,” – but he almost certainly was referring to the 1983 deal sending Rick Robey to Phoenix for Dennis Johnson. While Robey finished a solid career with the Suns, Johnson emerged as an integral part of two more championship teams in Boston and was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame.
Winning ain’t easy, on the court or in the front office.
Trading Danny Granger, the former face of the franchise, Paul George’s surrogate big brother in the locker room, the proud veteran battling his way back from multiple procedures on a balky left knee, was not something Bird did lightly.
But the return, the gifted Evan Turner and another solid big man in Lavoy Allen, was simply too great to ignore.
Turner and Allen joined the Pacers Sunday, participating in the pre-practice film session and post-practice shell workouts to run through some offensive sets. They both will practice today at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Turner will make his Pacers debut off the bench Tuesday against the Lakers.
“He does a little bit of everything. He can play multiple positions. I like how he handles the ball, moves the ball,” Bird said of Turner, the No. 2 pick in 2010. “He’s not a great 3-point shooter but he can score. I’ve followed his career since college and he’s going to be able to do some stuff for us. …
“Danny, since he’s been back, he’s more of a spot-up shooter. But Danny is very tough, rugged, he’d get physical, played strong. Danny’s taller but I know Evan’s a competitor. He’s going to compete every time he’s out there. To compare the two is hard but I think he’ll be a good fit for us and once he gets in there and gets to playing, the more we go along and get in the playoffs, the more you’ll see what he can do for our team.”
Saying goodbye to Granger, as well as popular former second-round pick Orlando Johnson (who was released to open a roster spot for Allen), was clearly a shock to the Pacers’ system. They were borderline morose at practice Friday and then trudged through a 10-point victory in Milwaukee Saturday night.
But the deal is done and it’s time to move on and get back to the business of trying to keep the two-time defending champions on the rear-view mirror.
“In this business, things change very quickly and you don’t have a choice to move on,” said coach Frank Vogel. “Our guys are. We’re obviously going to miss Danny and O.J.; that will sting for a while. But we’ve got a game to play Tuesday night and we’ve got guys that we’ve got to get up to speed so we’ve got to move on quickly.”
Vogel said he expects Turner to play 20 to 25 minutes off the bench right away. Allen will not be in the rotation.
That will require significant adjustments from both of the newcomers. Turner has started every game the past two seasons, while Allen has been a part-time starter and averaged 19 minutes as a regular in the Sixers’ rotation.
“He’s got to get adjusted to it. He’s got to be able to make that sacrifice,” George said of Turner. “A lot of guys did on this team so it’s no different for him. He’s got to be able to do that to start off and we’ll go from there.”
In 109 career appearances off the bench, Turner has averaged 22.6 minutes, 7.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists, shooting .437 overall and .290 from the 3-point line. Those appearances came during his first two seasons with competitive Sixers teams that reached the playoffs both years, pushing Boston to seven games in the second round in 2012.
“Watching the second unit scrimmage today, you can tell how much talent the second unit has. It’s just a positive group,” Turner said. “I think everybody wants to play in the playoffs. It’s always fun to play in and no fun to watch. Hopefully I’ll earn my minutes and be able to play.”
Typically, a team leading its conference doesn’t expect to endure 20 percent roster turnover in midseason but that is the case with the Pacers.
Now it’s up to Vogel and his staff to incorporate Turner and Andrew Bynum into the rotation, get both up to speed with both the offensive and defensive schemes, without disrupting team chemistry – all while the Pacers battle Miami down the stretch with postseason homecourt advantage on the line.
“It’s more of a workload attached to it,” Vogel said, “but when you improve the weapons you have that you’re going to need in the playoffs, it’s all worth it.”
Even for the coaches, especially for the coaches, winning ain’t easy.