I love how Larry is pretty blunt, in particular about Lance.
While I appreciate the job he has done & would be more than willing to welcome him back. I think he owes it to Herb Simon and the franchise to not drag this out. In fact by now my thought is if he doesn't know what he wants to do then I'm not sure he should be leading this going forward. I want 100% committment all the way around from everyone.
Either way, another positive Pacer piece by Bob.
For the first time in years, the Indiana Pacers can say "wait till next year" and not have it sound like a threat. A 20-18 regular-season finish and a competitive five-game playoff series loss to the No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls has Indiana fans finally coming out of self-imposed exile.
There is, however, a long way to go for this franchise.
A really long way to go, with a lot of changes still to come before the Pacers become any kind of challenger in the Eastern Conference.
"Anybody who watches us play a little bit and has any basketball IQ knows what we need," team president Larry Bird said Tuesday. "It's no secret. Everybody around the league knows what we're looking for in the draft and free agency."
No. 1: A long, athletic power forward who can score and defend at the basket.
No. 2: Another perimeter scorer (O.J. Mayo?) who can take some of the load off Danny Granger.
So where do you find these guys?
Free agency is always a roll of the dice, especially for a small-market team that isn't a hot spot for young, single athletes. That's particularly true this year with an uninspiring free-agent class. So for the most part, it will have to come through trades, much like the one last year that landed Darren Collison.
"Teams are going to be shedding payroll," Bird said. "With the money we're going to have, we'll be able to do some things this summer. And whatever we can't do, the next summer we'll have another $10 million coming off the (salary) cap."
The greatest improvement has to come from within the roster. Bird gave capsule summaries of several players as they head into an important summer:
Roy Hibbert has to continue getting stronger. "It's always going to be about his strength," Bird said. "But he'll be fine. The biggest problem is he gets down on himself."
Regarding Collison, ditto on strength. Once he was deprogrammed after months under fired coach Jim O'Brien, he flourished. Next year, he needs to attack more.
Tyler Hansbrough has to develop more ways to score, including developing a left hand and some subtle moves around the hoop. On a 50-plus-win team, he's probably a 25 minutes per game rotation player.
"With him now, it's in-game adjustments," Bird said. "When they switch the way they're playing him, he has a hard time picking it up and adjusting, and he's getting frustrated. But that takes time."
Paul George has to learn how to put the ball on the floor and create more scoring opportunities inside the 3-point arc. That said, Bird loves his work ethic, calling him "one of the five best young guys I've been around in all my years in the game."
Granger had a good playoff series, but Bird felt he took some small steps backward this year and wants to see him step up his game.
"He's a top-30 player," Bird said. "I've always thought he could be an All-Star and he's close, but he's not there yet. I didn't think he was as committed consistently as he's been in the past. It would be really nice if he could be our second scorer.''
Brandon Rush? Somebody has to explain why they picked up his option. My sense is he'll be dealt this summer.
"He's so inconsistent," Bird said. "I hate to see him turn into a role player. All the skills he's got, but he's not consistent."
Lance Stephenson has to have some kind of personal revelation this summer, or he's going to waste a precious gift.
"When he's playing, he's fine and has as much talent as anybody on this team," Bird said. "He's a long shot, but he's my ace in the hole. If we can get him to grow up, he knows how to play . . .
"I know he's a pain in the *** and the guys in the locker room get frustrated with him, but I'm not giving up on him. Unless he does something crazy."
Before anything happens, though, the first domino has to fall, and that involves Bird.
Does he stay or does he go? We spoke for 40 minutes before Tuesday's game; one second, he sounded like he was staying, the next, like he was leaving.
His tenure has been a mixed bag, some hits and some misses, but he has done the big-picture things the Pacers needed, establishing a young nucleus while getting the team out of salary-cap purgatory. He has earned the right to call his own shot here.
Whatever he does, he must do it quickly. Bird would like to remain and do the draft, but it's only fair for a new team president to come in and begin building the team the way he sees fit. And Bird is fine with that.
Once the Bird question is settled, then interim coach Frank Vogel's future can be addressed. By any measure, he has done an amazing job, and I'd like to see him be rewarded.
That said, I've been struck by how nobody on this team, on or off the record, has said, "Absolutely, positively, Frank should get the job." The furthest anybody will go is, "Yes, he's done a very good job."
It's going to be an intriguing summer, one the Pacers have been pointing toward for years.
Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star