Bird's focus in first solo draft is acquiring seasoned players who can help right away
By Jeff Rabjohns
Posted: June 28, 2008Read Comments(4)Recommend (1)E-mail Print Share Del.icio.us Digg Reddit Yahoo Google A A After watching the NBA draft Thursday night in Conseco Fieldhouse, Kevin Merriweather sounded almost celebratory.
"It's a new day for the Pacers," the season ticket holder said. "This is the re-emergence. I think we can win right now.
"I really believe that we are starting all over in a good way. It's going to be a different team, a different start. I'm amazed with what we've been able to do."
By agreeing to a trade of Jermaine O'Neal on Wednesday and Thursday night's deal with Portland, the Pacers acquired seven players -- including Brandon Rush, who said he wants to be the next Reggie Miller. Indiana also took major steps toward changing the image of its franchise as much as gaining players who fit coach Jim O'Brien's desired up-tempo style.
Any player whose name conjures images of the Detroit brawl in November 2004 or who was involved in a publicized off-court incident in recent years is gone or clearly expendable.
"There's no question about it, the culture of the team is going to change and we're not done yet," Pacers president Larry Bird said after his first draft without Donnie Walsh, now in charge of the New York Knicks. "We're going to continue to work on that through the summer.
"If you look at some of the guys in the proposed trades, they're a little bit older, went to school for at least three years. That's part of the change, more mature kids, some experience and getting guys that we think can come in here and play right away."
The deals with Toronto and Portland become official July 9, when the league's moratorium on transactions ends.
Until then, the Pacers officials can't comment on the trades or players involved.
O'Neal, a six-time All-Star, heads to Toronto for point guard T.J. Ford, center Rasho Nesterovic and Maceo Baston. The deal also included two draft picks: the Pacers sent their No. 41 selection, Nathan Jawai, to Toronto for the Raptors' No. 17 pick, 7-2 Georgetown senior Roy Hibbert.
Hibbert told the Washington Post that going to Indiana was a good fit. He excels at defense, and the Pacers don't. His college coach cautioned skeptics not to make too much of Hibbert's perceived lack of athleticism.
"If there is anyone in basketball that understands that you can be a terrific player and not be a runner and jumper, it's Larry Bird," John Thompson III told the Washington Post.
Later, in a draft-night trade, the Pacers sent the rights to the No. 11 pick, Arizona freshman Jerryd Bayless, and also Ike Diogu to Portland for the No. 13 pick, Kansas junior Rush, point guard Jarrett Jack and forward Josh McRoberts, a Carmel High School graduate.
The trade surprised Rush, who was wearing a Portland cap on TV and spent some time looking for a Pacers cap. But he sounded like a player who knew the Indiana landscape.
"I want to try to be the next Reggie Miller," Rush told the Kansas City Star. "That's my whole take."
The Portland deal was prearranged on the condition that Bayless or D.J. Augustin fell to the Pacers at No. 11. O'Brien hinted as much when he spoke publicly to the crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse during the first round.
Bayless, more of a scorer, doesn't fit as well into O'Brien's offense, which calls more for a pure point guard who sets up teammates instead of a scoring point guard in the mold of Allen Iverson.
With Ford and Jack, the Pacers can move oft-injured point guard Jamaal Tinsley, who has been involved in high-profile off-court incidents.
The addition of Hibbert and Nesterovic means free agent-to-be David Harrison is expendable. Harrison was suspended this past season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
"It's been a real pleasure to watch Larry Bird, (general manager) David Morway and the scouts work around the clock to make sure when we take the court next season, you'll be very, very proud of the individuals that will be wearing an Indiana Pacers uniform," O'Brien said, drawing cheers from the 4,250 in attendance.
"All the players that are involved in different scenarios, when they are all presented to you as fans, I think you will be very, very happy with the style, the people, the character, the way they handle themselves and the way they represent you."