Q&A: TUESDAY, AUG. 7, 2007
Controversy Doesn’t Change Bird’s Plans
Editor's Note: In the wake of Jermaine O'Neal's conflicting comments about a possible trade to the Lakers, team President Larry Bird sat down with Conrad Brunner of Pacers.com for this exclusive Q&A. He not only addressed the O'Neal controversy but a variety of other topics, including where he believes the team fits in the ever-shifting landscape of the Eastern Conference.
Q. From your impression of the events of the last 48 hours, does Jermaine O'Neal want to be traded? Does he not want to be traded? Ultimately, would either position influence your decision-making and, if so, how?
A. I don't think it influences anything in terms of what we're trying to do here. We're trying to put the best team we possibly can on the court and Jermaine's a heck of a basketball player. He's our best basketball player. So what we're going to do is, every time somebody calls about our players, we talk to them. It doesn't necessarily mean we're going to trade them. There have been some discussions over the past couple of months that involved Jermaine, like there have been every year, but nothing has come of it yet. It's just talk. He indicated he might want to be traded yesterday, then today he doesn't want to be traded. So I think what we do is we look at our team and if we find players out there that can make us better, we have to look at it.
Q. You've said more than once this summer that you hope Jermaine will remain with the Pacers. Have events of the last 48 hours changed your feelings at all?
A. No. He's our best basketball player and we realize that. What Jimmy O'Brien wants to do here is a style of play that will fit Jermaine perfectly. You always want your players to be happy but sometimes they're not happy. You just deal with it.
Q. Three teams in the East have made substantial moves, Boston, obviously with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen; Orlando with Rashard Lewis and New York to a lesser degree with Zach Randolph. Has the landscape shifted and if so where do the Pacers fit?
A. I think some teams probably made themselves better on paper but until you start playing the games you really don't know. There's some awful big names out there that got traded to the East but still, you have to play the games. I think with our new coach Jimmy O'Brien, the way he's going to play, his style, we didn't get big-name players but we got shooters. Our bench is a lot deeper now than it was last year. We added Kareem Rush, one of the best shooters in the league. We added Travis Diener, who I think's going to be one heck of a point guard, be able to run the pick-and-roll, play the style Coach O'Brien wants to play. These guys play with a lot of passion. We picked up Andre Owens and Stephen Graham, great, great role-players that can play minutes for you and they will be playing this year. The style Jimmy's going to be playing is the style I want to play. I want to get up and down the court a little bit faster. Bringing in Dick Harter, our defense is going to be better. Where we stack up to everybody else I don't know but I think we're a better basketball team than we have been here in the last couple of years.
Q. How do you see Jermaine fitting into a team that runs more?
A. He's going to have to get up and down the court a little bit faster but the thing is, the shooting is going to open it up for him. From what I've seen in the summer, we'll have great ball movement, we'll get open shots and the middle won't be clogged up like it was. If teams do double-team Jermaine, we're going to make outside shots and eventually it's going to have to soften up and he'll be able to maneuver down low.
Q. The concept of the Pacers being in a rebuilding mode seems accepted everywhere outside the building, but that's not the approach you've taken this summer. Why do you think there's a confusion in the perception of your philosophy?
A. There's no confusion to me. Rebuilding, to me, is when you take your top players and trade them for draft picks and young players. We have not done that. We have a core of young guys but they have some NBA experience. David Harrison's been in the league four years, Danny Granger's going into his third year, Shawne Williams is going into his second, this is Travis Diener's third year, and Ike's. These are young players that have played in the league and have some experience. No, we're not rebuilding. We've got a nucleus of young players and we've got veteran players. You have to have a good mix of that to move forward with your franchise and put them in a position to win.
Q. As presently constituted do you consider this to be a playoff contending team?
A. We'll win more games. With Dick Harter here and the way Jimmy's going to run his defense, we'll be better there. Offensively we picked up some guys that can make outside shots and will open it up for our guys down low. And our young players are going to get better. Danny improved immensely from one year to the next. Shawne Williams is going to get the opportunity to play, and Travis, and Kareem Rush is going to make shots. I know Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy have worked extremely hard this summer to improve their games. We have guys here now that have been practicing all summer. We're taking it seriously. The way Jimmy plays, he's going to expect these guys to play hard every day. That's one thing he will guarantee you. We will play a style of basketball our fans will like and we will play hard every night. We will give maximum effort.
Q. It's clear you have an enormous amount of confidence in Coach O'Brien. How big an impact can a coach have on the situation?
A. I've been in this league 27 years and I've seen it over and over again. If you have the right frame of mind and the guys buy into what you're trying to do, you will have success. When I coached here, the team had some injuries, they won 39 games, and just by the change of scenery and a new direction the guys won 58 games. I ain't saying I was the reason for that but there was a change in scenery and a different style. The guys have to buy into it. We tried to change our culture around here, first of all. We went through a lot the last three years. I have a great passion for this franchise because I followed this franchise since the ABA years. I know what Indiana's all about. I know the style they want to play. I know they want these to come out every day and work hard not only during the games but in practice. They want them to be good citizens. That's what we're trying to change here and I think we're on the right track. Eventually, it's all going to come together.
Q. In terms of the areas of the roster you'd like to address during the rest of this summer, particularly with Darrell Armstrong in a sort of limbo, do you want to get another point guard? Are there other needs remaining?
A. We're still talking about D.A. but if Darrell ain't going to be here we want to make sure we get him to the place he'd like to finish his career at. Would we like to get another point guard? We might. I'm not sure because we think Andre Owens can give us a few minutes, along with Travis and maybe Marquis. If you're really looking, maybe another big guy or another shooter.
Q. Are you completely comfortable going into the season with Jamaal Tinsley as the starting point guard?
A. Yes, and I think Jimmy O'Brien will be the best coach for Jamaal, I really do. I know the working relationship they have will be the type of relationship Jamaal will buy into. Jimmy will not only on the defensive but the offensive ends have Jamaal do the things he wants done out there. I think we're a better team. I like our team. No, we didn't make the big deals everybody else has so far, but I like our team. We needed shooting and we got it. Our bench is a lot better. We've got 11, 12 guys that can play. A lot of guys don't know Stephen Graham, they don't know Andre Owens and they really don't know Travis other than from college. But you'll see a big difference in the way we approach the game.
Q. Have you been encouraged by the reports you've gotten about the players' progress on their various offseason programs?
A. Well, with Murph, the one thing we saw last year was he didn't play as tough as he did in the past. You've got to understand, Murph was a double-double guy for three years in this league. I think in Golden State they wanted to run so they lost a lot of weight. Now he's bulking up. The thing we do in the summer is send our trainers and strength and conditioning guys out everywhere our players are at and we set them up with programs that are going to do the things we need them to do. Our guys go out and check on them about every two or three weeks and they can see the difference in them. And Marquis has been here just about every day and his knee's doing well. He says this is the first time he's played without pain. He's very valuable to our team. Marquis is a different type of player but he's going to be very valuable to what we're trying to accomplish.
I haven't even read this yet (yes, gentle readers, I was more concerned with formatting it for you all before taking the time to read it myself), but there's sure a lot of stuff being fed from the "mouths" since the quotes from JO.