Though speculation has been swirling the Pacers were in line for something of a shakeup after losing to Miami in the playoffs for the third consecutive year, Paul George asked for continuity on the roster, and Larry Bird said that was indeed his plan.
“You can speculate all you want but I’m pretty set with our core group and we’re going to give ‘em another shot,” Bird said. “They almost got there two years in a row; I think they deserve another shot.”
That will come as music to George’s ears. Speaking earlier in the evening before the Carolyn Symmes charity softball game co-hosted by Roy Hibbert and the Colts’ Robert Mathis at Victory Field, George said he hoped the team remained intact.
“I like the core that we’ve got,” George said. “You don’t find that in the NBA where your starting five has been together for a couple of years. A lot of guys like to move around. In that aspect, I love it. We’ve got the pieces to win a championship. Someway, somehow, we’ve just got to find a way to put it all together.”
George also clarified confusion over his infamous “I don’t know” answer when asked after the Game 6 loss to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals if he’d like to see Lance Stephenson return as a free agent.
“I think that was taken way out of context,” George said. “Obviously, me and Lance have been here four years together. I would love to continue to keep playing with Lance. When I said ‘I don’t know,’ I was speaking on what he’s going to do. I don’t know what he’s going to do, I don’t know what our front office is going to do and at the end of the day that’s my decision. I went through (contract talks), it was tough, but I would love to see No. 1 back here in a Pacers uniform.”
Bird reiterated his desire to retain Stephenson, who becomes a free agent Tuesday, and said he met with the former second-round pick Thursday morning.
“We talked really not about moving forward but the season and how I felt it ended,” Bird said. “(It was) the second sit-down I’ve had with him. If we do bring him back here, it’s pretty clear what I expect and that’s all that was said. So, July 1 I’ll talk to his agent and we’ll go from there. Lance wants to be here. There’s no question about it. He wants to be here so now it’s just getting the terms right and trying to get him back. …
“I’ve got a certain amount I’m going to pay him and I’m not going over that, I do know that. But it’s going to be a very good contract. Whatever you hear, whatever you see, I know what I can do to make it work and it’s a very fair contract.”
Indiana’s starters have been teammates since 2011, and have been together in the lineup since 2012. But that group simply hasn’t been able to find a way to get past Miami, losing in the second round in 2012 and the conference finals the past two years.
Though the swamping by San Antonio in the NBA Finals has opened up the possibility of substantial changes to the Heat, including the free agency of LeBron James and potential availability of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Bird said he had no intention of reacting to Miami’s moves, but rather to stick to his beliefs in building the Pacers.
“We won 56 games last year. It didn’t end well. I didn’t like how it ended in Game 6 but over the course of the year, just because we got off to the great start I never thought we were that good and when we was playing bad I never thought we was that bad,” he said. “We’ve got a good basketball team. I’ve played on teams with the same guys year after year after year and we had success and I think this team can, also.
“I believe in keeping the core of your team together. Now, you might make some moves and try to add to it but I like our core. I think we’ve got to be more consistent, we’ve got to have better ball movement and I think players have got to be held accountable, and they will be.”
FAST BREAKS: BIRD LIKES LAVOY
>> Bird twice mentioned Lavoy Allen as a free agent he would like to re-sign, though the veteran big man played sparingly after coming from Philadelphia in the trade that also brought Evan Turner. “He’s a pretty good player,” Bird said. “I like him, so we’ll see what happens.” That could indicate a willingness to part with either Luis Scola, whose contract for next season is only partially guaranteed, or backup center Ian Mahinmi, who struggled most of last season.
>> The first-round pick sent from the Pacers to Phoenix in the Scola trade last summer was used on Bogdan Bogdanovic, a shooting guard from Serbia.
>> The Pacers wound up with nothing other than cash from the draft when the sold the No. 57 pick to the Knicks, who used it on Louis Labeyrie, a 6-10 center from France. “That was a waste of two weeks,” Bird said. “ … We brought over 40 guys in and our scouts have been working all year. The decision was made if our guy’s not there, we’re not going to make the pick and that’s what happened.”
>> Bird said George Hill has been working out every day at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, to the extent the team’s training staff has had to send him home every once in awhile to keep him from overdoing it. “They tell George to go home, take a day off,” he said. “He’s committed himself to the summer to get better and that’s all I want to hear.”
>> George had an interesting quote when asked what the team needs to take the next step: “I think we need to know who we are. We’ve got to grow an identity and stay with that identity regardless of the team gaining success or individuals gaining success or we’re going the other way. We’ve just got to make sure this team has an identity the same way the Spurs are. They’re just going to come out and play basketball and that’s what they’re going to do. That’s where we’ve got to grow.”
>> Bird also had a bit of a message for coach Frank Vogel when asked about the bench’s lackluster productivity. “That’s up to Frank,” he said. “My thing with the bench is ever since I’ve been playing basketball, I don’t care who you are, if the guy that went in for you is playing good, you leave him in there. That’s just the way it’s always been.”