Larry Bird stirred up a fresh round of draft speculation yesterday while discussing the Pacers' supposed thoughts as they finalize preparations for Thursday's NBA Draft.
First was Bird's preference for 3-4 year college players who have a better chance to step in and play right away. This is a philosophy I agree with when you consider current state of the team with regard to the salary cap. They need a player who can contribute while only using up a rookie salary. This also allows the team to get a full four years of production from the player while his game continues to grow on the NBA level.
Unless you have a can't miss young player, which is never an option at 13, then taking a risk just isn't an efficient use of the roster and cap. The Pacers aren't going to attract a free agent and they don't have the money to do so now anyway. Stashing a young player away for a couple of years in hopes that he develops uses up valuable dollars in the short term and by the time they are really ready to make an impact 3-4 years down the road, the team will be faced with extending the player's contract for significantly more money or letting the player go.
Again, the Pacers just aren't in a position to gamble. Extending rookie contracts in hopes of a brighter future burned the Pacers earlier in this decade (think Al Harrington, Jonathan Bender, Jamaal Tinsley). The team needs to take a fresh approach that relies on using young players and only extending those whom the team knows will produce. There's far less risk in using a player through his rookie contract and then letting him go on to greener pastures than there is in signing a free agent or re-signing a current player and hoping they improve. After four years in the league, even young players reveal enough for the player personnel folks to determine said player's ceiling.
For instance, Brandon Rush showed great promise toward the end of the season but he was certainly inconsistent at best throughout the year. This year expectations have increased and his game should continue to show improvement at both ends of the floor. By year four, it should be obvious whether or not the Pacers should extend him. But until then, at least the team is getting production from the pick at a relatively inexpensive rate. This is a tricky balancing act to deal with human beings of varied emotional and physical growth while at the same time being forced to consider the financial bottom line.
The second highlight from Bird's comments was his effusive praise for Tyler Hansbrough, the lunch-pail packing power forward from North Carolina whose work ethic everybody loves but whose NBA game is suspect. He seems to be a conservative pick who wouldn't hurt a team but may not help it much, either. Now I don't profess to know how Larry Bird thinks, but this seems like a smokescreen of the highest order. Based on all of the players the team brought in for workouts, it seems obvious that the front office wouldn't mind moving back in the draft. Plus, the team rarely talks openly about a prime target. In fact, I'd be less surprised if the Pacers selected a player they didn't even bring in for workouts, say Earl Clark.
At this stage in the draft game, the goal is to misinform and drive up the value of players you don't covet while minimizing the value to those you do. When taking that mind set into consideration, I'd say Larry Bird had a pretty successful press conference yesterday.