Bird Sees Impact Player
Available in NBA Draft
By Conrad Brunner | June 22, 2005
He isn't giving any indication as to who, but Larry Bird is supremely confident about what the Pacers will be able to acquire with the 17th pick in the NBA Draft on Tuesday night: not just a talented player, but one that could play right away.
"I feel there's going to be at least four guys I think can make an impact on our team," he said, "and that's all you can ask for."
The team President met with the media for an informal pre-draft briefing Wednesday in Conseco Fieldhouse, revealing little about which players are on the Pacers' radar but making it very clear of his belief in the quality of the talent available.
"I think we'll get a kid that, hopefully after the All-Star break, if you put him in the lineup, he's going to be able to do the things the coach wants him to do," Bird said. "I mean, I really think he's going to help us … We're confident enough the guy we get is not only going to make our team but he's going to play – even if I have to coach him."
Because the Pacers have 13 veteran players under contract, are expected to retain restricted free agent James Jones and are attempting to re-sign free agent Dale Davis, there would appear to be little room on the roster - let alone the rotation – for an unproven rookie. That has led to speculation the Pacers might prefer to draft an international player who could remain overseas for a year or two before joining the team.
But Bird offered a strong reminder of his belief in the value of players with multiple years of college experience, particularly those that are available this year.
"You look at the guys that have gone to college a few years and compare them to some of these young kids coming out who think they should be playing 40 minutes a game; it's a little different," he said. "At one time we had two high school players here, great guys, great work ethic, and they always wanted to play more and do more. Whereas a guy like James Jones comes in and you don't have to worry about him. He wants to play all the time but he accepts whatever role he's in.
"I always think if you can get a college player that goes to school three or four years, it's to your advantage to probably look at him and probably draft him. If Gerald Green (a 6-7 high school forward from Texas widely projected as a top-five pick) is there, we will take him at 17. But other than that, we'll be looking for somebody with great talent and somebody who went to college for a few years."
Bird's analysis of this draft is that, beyond the projected top five picks – Utah center Andrew Bogut, North Carolina small forward Marvin Williams, Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul, Illinois point guard Deron Williams and Green – the talent level is relatively even through the 20th pick. Therein lies the source of his confidence about the quality of player that will be available at No. 17.
"There'll be some steals in this draft," he said. "It's a little different. There's no real clear-cut after No. 5. You could draft a guy at 17 that could be better than the sixth pick in the draft."
Because of that, Bird downplayed the team's interest in considering a trade to move up in the first round.
"I don't want to give up too much. I like our team," he said. "Obviously I think we've got some needs and we've got to get better in some areas, but I don't want to give up a good player that's really helped us out in the last couple of years just to move up four or five spots in the draft, because I know next year that player will be very valuable to us.
"You don't know how valuable they are until you let 'em go. It's important for us to just try to add pieces and make ourselves better instead of trading away some of the guys and move up and get a guy at 14 you could probably get at 17."
Two North Carolina teammates that have created quite a bit of intrigue in the middle of the first round are power forward Sean May and shooting guard Rashad McCants. A dominant player at the college level, May's draft stock has slipped because of concern about his relative lack of height (6-8). McCants is a considered a premium talent but has dropped out of the lottery because of questions about his attitude.
"Like Rick Carlisle says, we don't want a bunch of milk-drinkers here," Bird said of McCants. "We'll take the good with the bad. I've known Rashad for a couple of years, I've talked to him, I've been down to watch him practice, and he's a very, very talented player. So we'll see what happens."
Bird also spoke positively of May.
"He's got all the tools, the ability to rebound, intelligent player, has great hands," he said. "The only problem he may have in this league, but I doubt it, is his ability to get shots off as easy as he did in college. They'll be contested almost every time. Smart players and good players with the ability to adjust their games can overcome that and I think he's one of those players."
Though 50 early-entry players withdrew their names from draft consideration Tuesday, Bird said that had little effect on the Pacers' plans. Two of the names have been linked with the team in various mock drafts: Spanish shooting guard Rudy Fernandez and Brazilian power forward Tiago Splitter.
"Rudy Fernandez is going to be a very good NBA player in the future but he's just not strong enough yet," Bird said. "If we would've taken a player like that we would've had to wait two or three years before he could come in and help us. Tiago Splitter is another kid, a couple of years in Europe and he'll be fine. In my mind, they're not ready to play here yet but they're very talented."
Bird acknowledged interest in Marko Tomas, a 6-6 shooting guard from Croatia. But his withdrawal from the draft further minimized the chances the Pacers would select an international talent.