I was a little jealous when I first heard about this, ( ) until I found out the questions would be screened before hand. Now that they've published the transcript, what's the big deal? You get to hear Larry Joe's lovely speaking voice?
Anyway, some interesting stuff among the normal PR crap:
Bird: "I Want To See A Maximum Effort Every Night"
On Wednesday, March 8, President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird conducted a teleconference for Pacers Season Ticket Holders in which he answered questions submitted via e-mail. Vice President of Communications Quinn Buckner served as the moderator. What follows is a transcript of the 30-minute question-and-answer session.
Buckner: I want to thank all of you for joining us for our first full Season Ticket Holder conference call presented by eGix. I'm delighted to be sitting here with our President of Basketball Operations, Larry Bird. We hope that this conference call will address your questions and give you an exclusive perspective into our basketball operations. Your thoughts, opinions and questions are important to all of us here at Pacers Sports & Entertainment and we feel that sharing with you exclusive front office information on the direction of our team is important to our Season Ticket Holders. To begin, I will read your questions and Larry will address them accordingly. First of all, Larry, thanks for joining us today.
Bird: Thank you, Quinn. I'd also like to thank our Season Ticket Holders for participating today. We have a lot of tough questions here. Hopefully I can answer them as honestly as I possibly can. But you are very important to us here at the Indiana Pacers, for your support and hopefully you continue to give it to us.
Buckner: The first question is from Mitesh Shah, a 12-year Season Ticket Holder. The question is, "I like the style of basketball the Pacers are playing right now. We're hustling for rebounds, using dribble penetration for generating our own offense. How do you see the team maintaining this style of play when Jermaine (O'Neal) returns to the line-up?"
Bird: Well I'd have to agree with you, I like the style we're playing right now, too. I really believe that when Jermaine comes back, he'll fit in because he is our best player and players have a way of getting involved and doing things they need to do to get themselves involved more within the offense. If Jermaine has to get out and run the lanes, he'll do that. If he has to go down and post up, he'll do that. But I think he'll fit in nicely, especially with the addition of Peja Stojakovic.
Buckner: Well speaking of Peja, I think that's a great asset and this is part of the question. So, let me ask you, "What do you think it will take to keep him in Indiana for years to come?"
Bird: Well he can opt out of his contract this year, but we're looking forward to this summer to sit down with him and see what direction he wants to go and what direction we want to go. And hopefully we can get him re-signed and keep him here for years to come.
Buckner: The next question is from Bob Sheipe, a two-year Season Ticket Holder, "What's the status of the injured players and when are they expected to return to the line-up?"
Bird: Well, as you know Quinn, injuries are a big part of our game. Right now we have Austin Croshere out with a concussion, he's starting to practice. It's going to be a slow process, but we look forward to having him back in the near future. Jermaine O'Neal, I look forward to having him back; I hate to put a timetable on it, but, he's starting to work out harder and harder every day, and it looks like he's going to be back soon. Jamaal Tinsley, he's back now…he had a severe injury to his elbow. He got stepped on diving for a loose ball in San Antonio, and once he gets back and starts practicing and gets in some five-and-five situations and gets the conditioning back, I look forward to him returning to the line-up soon.
Buckner: We've got a question from Rich Garland, a long-time Season Ticket Holder. "What do you believe is the weakest position right now? And what can we do to strengthen that in the short term and long term?"
Bird: Well, after last night's game, we have a lot of weaknesses, but, I do believe that our team is strong in a lot of areas. A lot of times our fans ask us about our center position. Right now I think we're getting great play out of Jeff Foster, which is a guy that pursues every rebound and plays great defense. Then you've got David Harrison coming along, and Scotty Pollard's been somewhat healthy and he's giving us more. So, out of our center position we're getting everything we need. I don't know if we have a weak position. There are some things out there I see from time to time that we'd like to improve on, but just to pick one spot out and say we like to get better, I think we're pretty strong depth-wise up and down our line-up.
Buckner: Here's a question from Rob Thoman, a long-time Season Ticket Holder. Alright, "Can you describe how General Managers prepare for the season?"
Bird: Well, in the summertime there are a lot of things going on. You have free agency, you have your draft, you have your opportunity to talk to other teams about making trades and everyone's trying to strengthen their team. There are a lot of our fans who come to us and say, 'Why don't you trade this guy for that guy?' But it's not that easy. You've got to have two teams that want to move players and want to take on salary or dump salary, so it's a little harder than you think it is. But right now, this time of year, we're working toward the draft. The draft has been a very important part of what we're trying to do here. We picked up David Harrison two years ago, we got Danny Granger last year and I think this year is going to be key for us to get a player who's going to fit in with those guys. Because we're still trying to build through the draft right now with a veteran team. And hopefully we can be successful with that. So this year and right now we're working towards that and hopefully we can get the type of player that'll fit in.
Buckner: Let's go with this question from Bruce Felton. He's been a Season Ticket Holder since 1987. Alright, Larry, you were always known as a player who gave maximum effort during the game, before the game, and practicing, even in the offseason – total dedication to winning championships. On a scale of 1 to 10, with a 10 being what is necessary for winning championships, then you factor in practices, pregame, in-game and offseason, how do you rate the effort of Jermaine O'Neal, Jamaal Tinsley and Stephen Jackson having their tenure with the Pacers organization?
Bird: Well my first year here, we won 61 games and we also had Ronnie Artest in there and we had a very strong team. We had the type of team that meshed well together. When you start talking about great teams and great players, you also have to have great chemistry. At times we had good chemistry, and at other times we haven't. And the last two years with the injuries that we've had with Jermaine and Tinsley and guys in and out of the lineup, and having all different kinds of starting lineups, it's been very tough on us to get a feel for this group. Now since Ronnie's gone, we've got Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley and here's Stephen Jackson … I know what you're trying to get to here, but it's tough because I respect every one of these young men and they do give us their effort. Sometimes during the game they get emotional. We call them emotional players where they do too much talking to the officials and it looks like they're not giving the effort. But these players do care, and I think what we have to do as an organization here if they can't go about what we're trying to accomplish here, we have to get players in here that, like you say, give the total effort, do the things necessary to get better day in and day out. And that's just what it's all about. I mean, Indiana loves its basketball; they know when players are giving effort and when they're not. And I think it's up to us as administrators to try to get the best players we possibly can so our fans will come out every night and support them.
Buckner: Bob Hughes, a long-time Season Ticket Holder asks, "It appears that Tinsley is injury prone and has a questionable attitude. With this in mind, what is your take? Do you think he's capable of being a top 10 point guard?"
Bird: Jamaal Tinsley has been hurt the last two years on two freak accidents. One time he was running down the court and a guy stepped on his foot and he tore a tendon in his ankle, and we didn't get on it like we should've. We took X-rays and they didn't show much damage, but when we took an MRI, it showed that it had a tear. And it's one of those injuries that takes a long time to come back from. It's sort of the same type of injury that Corey Maggette has right now – it just takes time to heal. This year, he dove after a ball in San Antonio and a player stepped on his elbow, and he had a lot of bleeding in there and a lot of swelling, and it just takes time to come back from those injuries. I don't know if he's injury prone or not, but Jamaal's the type of player that plays hard. He wants to win. He likes to have the ball in his hand. I don't know if he's injury prone or not. I just know the kid loves to play. And when he's out there playing and when he's going good, there's no question he's a top 10 player in this league.
Buckner: You would say Jamaal is the guy that would play hurt, though.
Bird: Oh, he'll play hurt. It's just that he's had two freak accidents and two major injuries. And, it just takes time to come back from.
Buckner: Let's talk about the other point guards. You know, you've got Anthony Johnson, and then let's talk about what Sarunas needs before he can be maybe in the same category as a Steve Nash, but what do you think he is in terms of his floor leadership?
Bird: Well he's always been a leader. I've seen him play a number of games in Europe, and Sarunas is the type of guy who plays with emotion on his sleeve. He's not afraid to tell anyone where they're supposed to be at a certain time in the game, why they didn't set the pick, or why aren't we rebounding. But I think it just takes time with him. He's a rookie, even though he's 29 years old. He's still a rookie. He's learning the NBA game. And he'll get better. Anthony Johnson is just a worker. Some people like his game, some don't. I happen to like it, because this is a kid who gives you effort every night. We have our shootarounds at 10:00 in the morning usually here and Anthony doesn't leave here until 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon. So he gives you that effort and that extra practice time and things to prepare himself for games. So, I like both of these young men and hopefully they continue to play well.
Buckner: Let's get a question from Dan Hall, Season Ticket Holder since 1983. "Why did it take you and Donnie an extended period of time to trade Ron Artest?"
Bird: We had a number of teams after Ronnie. We had about 15 teams that called us and had a lot of interest in Ronnie, but they didn't want to give up anything for Ronnie. And you know how I feel about Ronnie Artest as a player, he's one of the top 10 or 12 players in the league since I've been here, and I still feel that way. It took a long time because we had to weed out the teams that were really interested in him and the ones who wanted to get him for nothing. And I kept telling Donnie, "We've got to be patient, we've got to be patient. And hopefully something will break." Well, it did and we got a player that we're very proud of.
Buckner: You ought to be. Peja's been a great addition. Kim Harvey, a 10-year Season Ticket Holder, attended ABA days as a child. Here's her question: "What do you expect to hear from the NBA about the salary cap relief from Jonathan Bender's contract?"
Bird: Well, we've gotten all of our paperwork in and we've talked with our lawyers. We've talked to the legal lawyers, and David Morway has spent a lot of time with our lawyers here, in house, to get everything done that needs to be done. I think in another month we'll know whether the league will allow us to take him off our cap or get some relief. I think it's probably four weeks away though.
Buckner: A 1980 Season Ticket Holder, Steve Pritchard asks this question, "I know several players are involved in several outside activities in the community, but the general public is not made sufficiently aware by the media. I've been told some of the players, on occasion, could barely walk and yet went ahead and played, not complaining. Why doesn't the organization make certain that the media makes certain that the media stresses these qualities instead of the negative impressions of our players?"
Bird: Well … that's a tough question. But our players do play hurt. If you look at Stephen Jackson right now, he's banged up from top to bottom, and he still comes to work every day. You've got Scotty Pollard that's been hurt off and on all season, who's playing with some pain in his legs. But our media knows that our players are injured, they do know our players go out in the public and do a lot of things – sometimes they want to cover it, sometimes they don't; sometimes they want to talk about it, sometimes they don't. But a lot of times the players don't want it in the papers. They don't want people to know that they're injured because the other teams will try to take advantage of them. We do have a lot of players that play with a lot of pain, but the media's very aware of that, and sometimes the players just don't want it out there.
Buckner: Because one of the things I'm involved with is the Community Relations side, I know we have a number of guys who go out and open a number of learning centers and they spend time with young kids in IPS and spend time with these young people, and the kids enjoy it. But what I found interesting, I wanted to share with the Season Ticket Holders, is that the players enjoy it. David Harrison gets in with the kids and he's telling jokes and reading books, and it's been a very enjoyable situation. And I agree with you Larry – one of the things I find interesting is how the media portrays athletics and they do that in the fashion that sells newspapers.
Bird: Yeah, our players do more here with the Indiana Pacers than we ever thought about doing when we were in Boston. I was really amazed when I came on board and saw how much our players go out in the public and all the things they do for our community.
Buckner: Let's go to the next question from a Season Ticket Holder, William Atkins. "How can you assure the fans that the future Pacers team will focus on team play and men with character?"
Bird: Well you just have to put your trust in the organization. Me and Donnie Walsh and our coaches – I think that the type of players we go out and try to bring in are quality kids that can play basketball and have good character. I believe we're going to continue to do that. Believe me, I don't like a lot of the things our players do when they make mistakes on the court. I don't like when they hang their head; I don't like when they don't run back. I see the same things out there that our Season Ticket Holders see. And there will be changes. Not that we're going to be trading everyone, but by talking to the players, by bringing them in, if some guy is having emotional problems and thinks the referees are after them every night, we'll have to do whatever we can to try and help them. And we've been doing that. I don't know if you've noticed that in the last two or three weeks, we've talked to every one of the players and we've told them what we expect. Not that we haven't done it before, but we're going to keep reassuring these guys that this could be a problem for us, because me and Donnie see everything that they see.
Buckner: Yeah, to add to that … on the games I do, I've noticed some considerable change with a couple of the players. The one I think people have to play about would have to be David Harrison. He's a young man in a very emotional game, and I've noticed some real changes in that not only is he better managing his emotions, I think it's really starting to show itself in the way he's starting to play. He's been much more effective with that. So your conversations with those guys, particularly him, have really worked. Let's go to Rick Westlake, Season Ticket Holder, "When Jermaine is in the game, do you think that the low-post game has a tendency to have a negative affect on Stephen Jackson or Peja?"
Bird: Well, we don't know about Peja yet. But, at times, we do have a problem – we throw the ball at a post, and guys have a tendency to hold it. I'm not just talking about Jermaine, I'm talking about Jack, I'm talking about Anthony Johnson, I'm talking about a lot of guys. The one thing you want to do is try to get the ball in the post early, kick it back out, swing the ball from side to side, then drop it in, then go to work. But I think when Jermaine gets back in there, it's going to help Peja and Stephen Jackson, because we'll have a low post presence that can score, and these guys will get better shots from the outside.
Buckner: Alright, let's go to a 20-year Season Ticket Holder, Dave Spindler, "In your opinion, what has happened to the game since you last played and what can the NBA do to get back to the glory days of you and Magic?"
Bird: That's a tough one. They were glory days because I played basketball something I loved to do in front of a supporting crowd. I don't know, that's what we're trying to do here. We're trying to make the game fun – not only for our players, but for our fans. Being from Indiana, I know that our fans like to see rows ran properly, they like to see guys boxing out, they like to see a team on the court. And that's something we've got to do here. We've got to make sure the players we bring in here fit into what we're trying to do and get this team going the way our fans want them and plus win a lot of games.
Buckner: A 15 year Season Ticket Holder, Bob Bischoff, asks this question, "Does the Pacers management have the goal to develop an individual that would be a life-long Pacer, or because of free agency, are those days gone?"
Bird: Well, with some players, yes it makes it tough…it's according to what your cap is and how much you have money wise to re-sign these players. But since I've been here, David Harrison and Danny Granger – they are the future of this franchise. They're very fortunate because they get to learn on the job now, they get to play, they're getting their minutes. I look forward in hopefully 10-12 years down the road they're still with this team. I talk to these young men all the time about them being our future and we want them here, and we're going to do whatever we can to keep them here.
Buckner: Got a question from Scott Davis. Now Scott, your question may have been answered, but it's worth posing again. The question is, "Are we actively pursuing a true center to be added to our rosters and what are your thoughts on centers Jeff Foster, Scott Pollard and David Harrison?" And you've addressed that a little bit, but you know what? I'd like you to talk a little bit about the progress of David Harrison and what you've seen based upon where you were able to get him in the draft and where he is today.
Bird: Well, since the day we drafted David, it was in the summertime, and after we had our press conference, David wanted to go on the court and work out. That's not surprising, we have a lot of guys who do that, but David hasn't left here since he got here. He's been here every summer, he works hard, and I think our fans can see the improvement he's had from last year to this year. And I think it's very important for David to continue that. David told me he wanted to play in a summer league this year. He's going to be here all summer. I haven't talked to Granger, but he spent all last summer here. And I think it's very important for not just the young kids, but for a lot of these guys to be in here a few times a week to work on their game because our coaches are here, they want to work with them, and I think as this gets going, more and more players will be sticking around and participating in the summer.
Buckner: I think a lot of people would've taken Danny Granger. I'm curious as to what you saw, because I think you liked him early. What did you see about Danny Granger that made you know that he would be a good player in this league, though not a flashy player?
Bird: Well, not only skills, but he plays with a chip on his shoulder. I like guys who are made before the game starts, and that's what I saw from Danny this summer. He's the type of kid who plays hard, you know what you're going to get from him every night, and he might not hit every shot or get every rebound but you're going to get the effort from Danny. So, Danny's going to have a good career, it's just up to us to get him to that level.
Buckner: A question from Mike Deck, Season Ticket Holder, which really goes into Danny Granger… "It was a great move getting Peja…" But the essence of the question is, "Do you think Danny Granger has what it takes to be the next Scottie Pippen?"
Bird: Well, I mean, Scottie Pippen was one of the all-time great players. I hate to put that pressure on Danny, but Danny's got a lot of skill. But like I said, if he continues to work hard, and if he stays here in the summer and gets good use out of the coaches…when we talk about working out in the summer, what we do is we have assistant coaches working with these guys, and every drill they do is usually right into what they'll be doing during the games. So they're not just out there shooting and running and getting in shape. They're doing drills that when they come off of picks, they know where they're going to get the ball in the game, when they run pick and roll, they float to the corner and know which shot to take. So I think this is very important for these young men to do the things in the summer to make them better, and I think they'll do that. Danny Granger's going to be a heck of a player, but he's got to continue to improve, night in and night out.
Buckner: Question from Bruce Barker, a 15 year Season Ticket Holder. "Anthony Johnson has been playing very well. What do you think his roll will be when Jamaal returns?"
Bird: Well, I hate to talk for Rick Carlisle, but Anthony Johnson has played very well for us from day one. He was our best player in training camp, he's done everything we've asked, he's a tough competitor. Anthony's one of those kids who had to play in the minor leagues and all over the world before he got here, so he knows what he has to do. Jamaal Tinsley's Jamaal Tinsley. When Jamaal Tinsley's playing good, he's as good as anyone. I think when Jamaal gets back in shape and starts playing he'll probably come off the bench for awhile, and Anthony knows he'll go back to the bench and Anthony will probably be starting.
Buckner: Question from Tony Wilson, Season Ticket Holder since 1999. "Will the Pacers change anything in their approach to their offseason, preseason and in-season conditioning programs to help cut back on the amount of injuries?"
Bird: I don't know if conditioning has anything to do with injuries. I know that when I was playing I was in top shape and I still had injuries. We change things every off-season. Last year we brought in a new strength and conditioning coach, I think it's helped. I think once these players continue to work, they're going to get stronger, their bodies are going to feel better. We put a lot of time thinking about how we get away from these players having so many injuries. We've had two bad years here where I think whatever we can do to keep a player on the court and healthy, that's what we have to do.
Buckner: Yeah, and until that point, I think what's happened here is you work particularly hard in trying to make sure they have the kind of medical care and conditioning that makes you a better player or stronger player in the fourth quarter as opposed to a guy that just comes into a game.
Bird: Yeah, there's no question, you want to build up to where … I know when I played Quinn, I never got tired. I can remember asking my little brother who played college ball, "What kind of shape are you in?" He said, "I don't know, I get really tired as the games goes on." And I couldn't understand that because I always felt that you had to condition yourself to when a fourth quarter overtime comes … I always conditioned myself to play 60 minutes, even though the game's 48. That's what I think these players have to do – not play their way in shape, but get themselves prepared to play 60 minutes, whether they play 25 minutes, 30 minutes, it doesn't matter, but you have to prepare yourself to play 60.
Buckner: Let me ask you a question. The beginning of the year, I thought the team struggled with the rebounding. And as the year's gone on, the team has made some progress there. What do you think has caused that?
Bird: Well, I think just pursuing the ball. I mean, I can remember talking to David Harrison early this year, I asked him, and David is not a strong rebounder, not as good as I think he should be, and I don't think he'll ever be as good as I think he should be rebounding the ball, as much as I like him. He's getting better. The one thing I asked him is, "What do you do when you go for a rebound? Follow the ball in the air? Box out your man then follow the ball in the air?" And he said, "No, I box out my man and watch the rim." And I'd never heard that before because that's completely the wrong way to do it. So we've been talking about it as making contact with your man, keeping behind you and watching the flight of the ball until it hits the rim then pursue the ball because you get a better understanding of where the ball's long, short or which side it's going to come off the basket if it's missed. And it's just little things like that that some of these kids miss out on and why? I don't know. I think it's just because they lack the fundamentals that we had when we were younger.
Buckner: When you look at the NBA game now, what is it that keeps you excited about being a part of the game as you watch these young players develop?
Bird: Yeah, I like the team play, the chemistry. I like to watch teams that move the basketball and try to beat the defense down before they set up like we used to play. But, giving the total effort, I think that's what our Season Ticket Holders want. They want guys to come out there and give the maximum effort. I can remember there were games that we played where we felt like we played our hearts out and got beat, but the crowd was happy and they'd give you a standing ovation. It's just like last year when our players played hard, but lost a home game and they couldn't believe when they were in the locker room that our fans were standing up and clapping for them when they walked off. And that's a good feeling to have, and that's the type of relationship you want to have between your team and your Season Ticket Holders.
Buckner: Our last question today is from Matt Peterson, a 3-year Season Ticket Holder who asks, "Are you and Donnie happy with the direction of the team?"
Bird: Going into this year, Quinn, I really felt in my heart that we probably had the best talent we've ever had here. A lot of things have happened since then, but at that time, the direction of the team was going exactly where we wanted it to go. Now, with the injuries we have, we don't really know. We haven't seen Jamaal or Jermaine out there with Peja Stojakovic and played a full year. But, all this will be addressed at the end of the season and if it's not, we'll do the things we have to do to get the best team we possibly can out on that court.
Buckner: Alright, well I think you answered the question quite well. I want to know, did I miss anything? Is there anything you'd like to tell our Season Ticket Holders?
Bird: Well, I just appreciate their support. Just reading some of these and they've been Season Ticket Holders for years and years, and I know a lot of them get frustrated at times. I go around and talk to a lot of our Season Ticket Holders and it's good because they tell you what they really think. And they have to understand one thing – I see the same thing they're seeing, and I'm still a little hurt from last night after our loss. Our guys looked very tired out there, they didn't look together in the second half, but they'll bounce back. This is a group of guys who when they get their backs against the wall, they bounce back. And I'm just like our Season Ticket Holders. I don't care what happens out there, I want to see a maximum effort every night.
Buckner: Alright Larry, thanks so much again for taking the time to sit down with us to discuss the state of the team.
Bird: Thank you Quinn.
Buckner: In closing, I would like to again thank all of you for participating in our first full Season Ticket Holder conference call presented by eGix. As an organization, it's important that we keep Season Ticket Holders well informed about all aspects of our business. You're an intricate part of the Pacers family and a key to our success. We hope that you feel that this was a great opportunity to gather information from top management. We will continue to implement ways to enhance and improve your experience and have your thoughts about the team, so that you can understand how extremely important this is to us.