Bird, Pacers OK with trying again

Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird listens to a question during a news conference Monday, June 2, 2014, in Indianapolis. The Pacers lost to the Miami Heat in the conference finals. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Darron Cummings/AP

Larry Bird is one of the greatest basketball players ever and the man running the Indiana Pacers. So when he speaks, basketball fans tend to pay attention.

Bird did in fact speak Monday, just a few days after the Pacers were bounced (again) from the playoffs by the defending champion Miami Heat.

And it was a strange season for Indiana. The Pacers looked like the best team in the league in November and December, and perhaps parts of January. Then came February and March and the postseason.

Perhaps never before has a team finished with the top seed in the East, advanced to the conference finals … and looked so incapable of greatness.

But Bird isn’t panicked.

ENTER TO WIN

"Maybe we weren’t as good as our record the first half, (and) the second half we weren’t as bad," Bird said.

Bird’s talk on the team followed Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who also met with reporters in Indianapolis on Monday. Both men believe the Pacers’ core of Paul George, David West, George Hill, and yes, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson, are worthy of returning and growing together.

And, oh by the way, Vogel will be back, too. Bird said that is one thing that’s never been in doubt — despite, as Bird coined it, writers who were "800" miles away from the Pacers reporting differently.

Now, in order to keep the core together, the Pacers will need to keep Stephenson, an unrestricted free agent. Stephenson can be a little bit of a knucklehead, but Bird and the Pacers like him and appreciate his game. The bottom line is they want to keep him.

"You can’t have a talent like that walk away," Bird said.

Odds are, the Pacers will pay Stephenson more than anyone else. Odds are, he’ll be back.

Then there’s Hibbert. Something went wrong, and that something was major. Too often, Hibbert pulled the world’s first 7-foot-2 vanishing act. He disappeared at the worst possible moments — when it meant the most. That’s basically the opposite of what you want.

"When Roy loses his confidence, he struggles sometimes," Bird said.

Hibbert has worked with legend Bill Walton, and Bird suggests Hibbert now try to work with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Either way, whatever happened with Hibbert needs fixed. He has loads of potential, but he can no longer be a mystery. The Pacers have to know what they’re getting from him nightly.

As for the rest of the team, Bird basically said George could afford to work on his post game, and Hill is a nice point guard — but the Pacers are open to seeing what else is out there.

"I don’t want to make major changes," Bird said. "(But) we’re going to listen."

Both Bird and Vogel hinted some consistency on the bench would be helpful. They like backup point guard C.J. Watson and big men Ian Mahinmi and Luis Scola.

But sources say Evan Turner, who arrived in a late February trade, can be a chemistry-killer and occasional locker-room problem. He is a free agent and likely won’t be brought back — leaving the Pacers some wiggle room to improve in reserve.

As for the main men, well, Bird said there’s no reason for the Pacers NOT to try it all again.

"I think it’s important when you’ve got a young team to try to keep them together and let them develop," he said.

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