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Bird rebuilding Pacers, slow but sure

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Larry Bird could solidify his future as Indiana Pacers president if he makes the right moves this week.

Bird is heading into the final year of his contract and the Pacers have not said whether they will offer him an extension. Team co-owner Herb Simon told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he's been happy with Bird's performance, but he wouldn't discuss the contract situation. Bird has said he is focused on improving his home-state Pacers.

The NBA draft on Thursday offers Bird a great opportunity to impress his boss. The Pacers have the 13th and 52nd picks, and Bird has said the team is open to making trades.

Bird has the unenviable task of rebuilding a franchise that has been reeling since 2004, a year infamous for the brawl between Pacers players and Pistons fans. The team has missed the playoffs the past three years after reaching the Eastern Conference finals six times between 1994 and 2004 and the NBA Finals in 2000.

The team, however, finished strong last season. Bird has talked about the need for low-post scoring and a young point guard, but he said this week that the team will take the best player available.

"We're definitely going to get a good player, a player that can step right in and help us," he said. "There's going to be four guys that are going to be at 13. Three out of the four guys will be there, I guarantee you that."

Bird said he doesn't expect draft day to be quite as busy as it was last year, when the team ended up adding seven new players. The Pacers sent six-time All-Star power forward Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto for T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston and first-round draft pick Roy Hibbert. In another trade, the Pacers sent Ike Diogu and first-rounder Jerryd Bayless to Portland for Jarrett Jack, Josh McRoberts and first-round pick Brandon Rush.

Ford and Jack split starting duties at point guard last season, and Rush and Hibbert were starters by the end of the season. Rush, a shooting guard, averaged 18.3 points and shot 55 percent from the field in the final 10 games.

"It was one of the best drafts of all time for us," Simon said. "It was fabulous."

Bird said the Pacers expect to have no more than five new players heading into next season.

A total shake-up isn't necessary. The Pacers finished 36-46 last season, but went 15-13 after the All-Star break and finished three games behind Detroit for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers have an All-Star in Danny Granger to build around.

Indiana finished 25-16 at home and beat five of the six division winners at Conseco Fieldhouse -- the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and the Denver Nuggets.

"I feel about the way we ended the season, and I feel good about adding more to the mix," Simon said.

Bird might go back to his Indiana roots for the next phase of his rebuilding project. The local legend says he's taken a serious look at Wake Forest's Jeff Teague and Alabama-Birmingham's Robert Vaden, both Indianapolis products.

Teague, a 6-2 guard, led Wake Forest to a 24-7 record this past season and a second place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Teague led the Demon Deacons with 18.8 points per game as a sophomore.

"Very talented player that we've got our eye on, there's no question about it," Bird said. "I like how he played last year. He had a good first half, they were ranked No. 1, and he was really the main reason they were."

Vaden, a former Indiana player, averaged 17.6 points and 4.9 rebounds last season at UAB after withdrawing from the 2008 draft. Bird said the Pacers would consider Vaden if he was available in the second round.

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