Larry Bird didn't meet with the general media during the Pacers media day event on Monday. He did make his presence known however, showing up to take a photo with newly acquired point guard, Darren Collison which spoke volumes.
The Pacers president didn't join any other players in front of the camera which made the scene striking. The hopes and aspirations of Bird's rebuilding plan rest to a large extent on the future success of Collison and his ability to solidify the point guard position.
Bird has stood behind the wrong players in the past. Most notably, in a very similar image to the one snapped yesterday, Bird sent a strong statement by gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated with Ron Artest before the 2005-06 season when everyone figured Ronnie was prepared to redeem himself after missing a season. Obviously, Ronnie wasn't ready for redemption and from that point on, the roster slowly crumbled to the ground and has been rebuilt slowly to where we stand today, looking at a core of young players with a future worth pondering.
So seeing the legendary former player and highly scrutinized team president standing by his man made perfect sense. In the final year of his contract, Bird made a bold summer move by trading to acquire Collison while maintaining fiscal sanity and not mucking up the team's future salary cap situation with the deal. Bird swung for the fences and expects to trot around the bases as Collison shows the potential of the future team leader everyone projects.
As for Collison, the speedy point guard at least sounds ready to back up Bird's faith in his game. He's also likes the players that will run alongside him.
"It felt good playing with them (new teammates)," Collison said when talking about his early on-court impressions. "I felt really comfortable with the system and fit in with their personality. We've got a lot of great shooters and it just matches up to my speed. If I can get into to the paint as much as possible and kick it out to those guys I think it will help us out a lot."
Just how much Collison's game helps the Pacers this season is hard to predict. He is still just heading into his second year in the league, with his game on the ascent it remains a work in progress. Collison isn't willing to give into reality though, keeping his goals for the team lofty from day one.
"Whatever happens in the future happens but I definitely want to make the playoffs this year," Collison said. "I don't want to talk about it I want to be about it. I don't want to wait until next year, I want to do it this year. This city deserves to have a playoff run. We have great players on this team with great personality and I don't think there's any reason why we shouldn't do it, so I definitely have playoffs in my hopes right now."
Collison speaks with such confidence and conviction it's hard not only to believe him but to buy into what he's saying even after he warns that he's not interested in preseason talk about post-season projections. So from now until the end of the season we'll have ample opportunity to analyze the impact Collison has in his second pro year and first with the Pacers and any review of Collison's performance will be closely tied to the performance review of Larry Bird and David Morway.
Whether this is Bird's last at bat remains to be seen, but if so he's going down swinging with Collison by his side.