Larry Bird and Coach Frank Vogel's message was obvious Tuesday morning, the Pacers will not cultivate a culture synonymous with tanking. When asked about the outlook for the 2014-2015 season, Bird responded:
"We're going to try to put a competitive team out there, a team that can play at a high level. And go from there."
Taking his resolve one step further, the team's President of Basketball Operations said that the Pacers' aim is to win as many games as possible and get into the playoffs because the team is "here to win."
Of course, in the same press conference he also lamented what everyone there likely already knew, "You just can't replace Paul George."
At least publicly, the pair attempted to exude optimism. Asked about what to say to fans that already feel like the season is lost, they discussed the possibility of developing young talent, putting forth a competitive team, surprising opponents, playing with grit and toughness, and fostering a winning culture.
While it is near to impossible to replace the skill-set of a two-time All-Star and All-NBA caliber defender, another theme of the press conference seemed to take a page straight from the playbook of Tom Thibodeau, as the two, seemingly mimicking the posturing of the Bulls coach, emphasized that the team has "more than enough to win."
In order to really try to bring this point home, Solomon Hill's upside was, once again, touted. Vogel, pointing out that George Hill was asked to defer last season, admitted that, with an expanded role, the six-year NBA veteran is capable of doing more next season. C.J. Miles and Rodney Stucky's names were both dropped as valuable additions to their, by necessity, team-oriented approach.
The immediate outlook for the Pacers may be murky, but Bird's expectations and intentions are crystal clear:
"I know some fans would rather us go in a different direction. But we want to win."
- Bird spoke about Monday's reported meeting with free agent Shawn Marion. When asked how the meeting went, he said the 36-year-old veteran still appeared to be undecided, but noted that the former All-Star would like to land with a team where he can contend for a title now.
- When asked about the rumored Roy Hibbert-to-Phoenix trade discussions, Bird said that he had never heard that one and that it was news to him.
- The Pacers have yet to hear if the league has granted their application for the Disabled Player Exception.
- Even if the team utilizes the Disabled Player Exception, going over the luxury tax is still and, according to Bird, "never" will be an option.
- No one has told the Pacers that Paul George, for sure, will be out for the entire season. While it will be up to the doctors and Paul himself to determine his readiness to return, Bird admitted that the team will not have him come back if he is only 60-70%.
- The Pacers will guarantee Donald Sloan's contract by Friday's deadline.
- It is clear that both Larry Bird and Frank Vogel still have very high hopes for Solomon Hill. According to Vogel, Hill is "working his tail off" to become a solid contributor for the team next season.
- Bird reaffirmed his full support for Team USA noting that players get better playing for their country and Paul George is defined by his drive to improve.
- Per usual, Bird said the team is always looking for ways to get better and, if they can improve, they will try to makes moves. He also added that they have a few players "pinpointed."
- On a lighter note, when asked if the team would wear a patch to honor Paul George next season, Bird quipped, "He's still alive."