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Bird Let's It All Out

Somehow, Sam Smith was was able to get Larry Joe Legend on the therapist's couch and LJL unloaded some front office angst. The interview is full of great LJL quotes that expose his frustration but also reveal that his competitive juices are flowing.

After mention of Stephen Jackson's mock police frisks during pregame introductions.

Bird and the Pacers aren't laughing.

"We've had three tough years," Bird acknowledged about a franchise many often pointed to as the NBA model for player satisfaction and community involvement. "I was sitting here before the season with (President) Donnie (Walsh, whom Bird is trying to persuade to stay with his contract expiring) and he said, 'Let's have some fun this year.' I said, 'Donnie, we're not playing.'

"You have to go back to the [Auburn Hills] fight, unfortunately," Bird said. "We never really recovered from that. The next year Stephen, Jermaine and Ronnie [Artest] are waiting for me after the [end-of-season] meetings with the guys. They say we want to stay together, give us one more chance, that they'll make this work. If it doesn't, we can get rid of all of them. Then Ronnie wants to be traded after 15 games. C'mon. Then we have to trade players because of the [strip-club] incident three days into camp. You can't have that in a city like this.

"Our focus was playing basketball," Bird said of his playing days. "When I coached here we had a committed group of guys. You could tell after practice the way they'd stay around. There's not a lot of that anymore. You don't see it, the commitment it really takes. Would I take a chance on a [questionable] guy? Yeah. But I wouldn't with a top-20 pick anymore. You can't have those guys on your team. It's not worth the risk, especially after what we've been through.

"Take Chicago," Bird said, admiringly. "Look what they're doing. Getting guys from universities, guys who got the coaching from great programs. I've been watching them up there and what they're doing, and you can see they're turning the corner."

Hmm, I'm assuming by 'questionable' he means questionable in terms of character and not youth or inexperience since the Pacers took Shawne Williams last year who was all of one year removed from high school.

Bird sums up his therapy session with complaints about the luxury distractions that today's players enjoy which can satiate the hunger to pursue greatness.

Indeed, a GM's job is not as easy as playing.

"It's a different league now," Bird sighed. "Danny [Ainge] and Kevin [McHale] and all of us are having our struggles," he said of his former Celtics teammates running the Celtics and Timberwolves, respectively. "I look at our team and say we're better than [an opponent]. And they have a better record. I feel we're a lot better than we played. We've had injuries, but we had more a couple of years ago and were better. You don't want to make excuses. I really don't think we're that far away.

"The players we got in trade, they're good players, knowledgeable, they know how to play. Maybe not All-Stars, but good character guys who've been in winning programs. We're not going to win 55 games right away, but we have a chance to build it and get it back to where we want to be. Jermaine is a hard guy to replace. If he comes in here and says he wants to go, we'll look. But he's under contract. If we cannot get what we want, we won't trade him. We'll be the same as Memphis (with Pau Gasol). If we continue to have him, he's got to be our focal point and we've got to get guys to complement him.

"When I went to Boston, I knew they won championships but didn't really know the history. But the players always came around, you'd ask questions, they'd talk basketball. You didn't want to let the guys down. They set the bar high. It's not like that here, or around the league. We stay at the nicest hotels. In Minnesota we're right across the street from the arena, maybe a 45-second walk. They've got a bus for them. You've got to be kidding me. Charter planes. That's not flying. I always say guys deserve the money, but it changes some people.

"Somewhere along the line this is going to break and we're going to have success. I know it. I'm not going to give up. I told Donnie we'll see what we're made of. We've got to change some things, get rid of some players. But you never want to give up when you are down. In the long run this may be better for me, but I doubt it. I never thought losing would make me better. I want one more chance to try to get back there and win this thing."

Plenty of info to digest. Again, it sounds like Rick Carlisle's departure is imminent. Sounds like J.O. won't be far behind if they can convince a trading partner that his knee is fine and the value coming back can make an impact.

The dynamite is in place to blow the thing up. How long it takes to rebuild depends on a little luck and a lot of solid moves. LJL isn't going anywhere and seems ready to do what it takes to climb the winning mountain once again.