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Pacers' Bird Cautious About Free Agents

Jul 10, 2010 – 1:09 AM
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Chris Tomasson

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Now that the great race to accumulate salary-cap room for the summer of 2010 has run its course, we present the Indiana Pacers, ready to shed salary for the summer of 2011 and become a darling destination for free agents.

Well, maybe not.

Yes, the Pacers are in line to have plenty of cap room next summer. But president Larry Bird said it's not necessarily the case that they will make like some of the teams did this summer by having carved out every possible dime.

"We've never been in this to get way down and go after one player,'' Bird (right) said in an interview with FanHouse at the Air Tran Orlando Pro Summer League. "We're not that size of a market where we can absorb two maximum players. So we've got to pick and choose. We've got to wait our turn.''

The Pacers have several top players with expiring contracts, such as Troy Murphy ($11.97 million), Mike Dunleavy ($10.56 million), T.J. Ford ($8.78 mlllion) and also have Jamaal Tinsley ($7.5 million) still on the books. Without giving names, Bird said it's possible the Pacers, instead of waiting to use their cap room on free agents and risk being left without impact signees, might make a deal by acquiring a player or players with multiple years left on their deals.

"We've got a lot of expiring contracts,'' said Bird, whose team has endured four straight losing seasons. "We've got a lot of teams out there that are interested in some of our players. So we'll see what happens. Obviously, we're looking for a point guard. Maybe we can get involved in one of these trades that will make us a little better next year.''

Bird said he wouldn't hesitate now to give up cap room next season if it was a deal the Pacers liked.

"We can start right now,'' Bird said of a trade.

The Pacers are in a different position than the teams that did everything possible to create salary cap room for this summer. Next year's free-agency class won't be nearly as strong as this year's has been. And there is plenty of uncertainty since there will be a new collective bargaining agreement after the current one expires June 30, 2011.

"We don't know,'' Bird said of what type of salary cap there might be. "We're also hearing that the numbers are going to come down. We won't see those (maximum) contracts that we're seeing now. If the numbers come down and the cap comes down, we can still deal with it.''



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For now, Bird said the Pacers have "waited two years to be in this position and we aren't going to do something stupid.'' So, in order to preserve their cap space, Indiana plans to offer free agents just one-year deals this summer. Two point guards the Pacers are eyeing are the Lakers' Jordan Farmar (unrestricted) and Houston's Kyle Lowry (restricted).

Also hanging over the Pacers are difficulties during these tough economic times with their lease at Conseco Fieldhouse, which has led to speculation the team might move. But Bird doesn't believe they're going anywhere.

"I know my owner (Herb Simon) and he wants to keep it in Indiana,'' Bird said. "So we can talk about moving all we want. But I know what his goals are and hopefully he can come to terms on an agreement and get something done. ... I just know what my owner wants to do and he wants to keep it there.''

Bird said the four straight losing and non-playoff seasons have been "frustrating for all of us.'' But Bird said the Pacers in recent years haven't wanted to make a quick fix as they got closer to shedding some bad contracts and having cap room available.

"It's unfortunate the wins and losses the last couple of years, but we felt that we needed to go with our young core group, and try to move them forward,'' Bird said. "And once we had an opportunity with our expiring contracts, see what we can do.''

"I know my owner (Herb Simon) and he wants to keep it in Indiana. So we can talk about moving all we want. But I know what his goals are and hopefully he can come to terms on an agreement and get something done"
-- Larry Bird
Heading the young core group has been forward Danny Granger, an All-Star in 2009 who had injury problems last season. Other intriguing young players include center Roy Hibbert, forward Tyler Hansbrough and guard Brandon Rush.

Continuing to exercise patience, Bird used the No. 10 pick in last month's draft to select slender Fresno State forward Paul George rather than go for a player perhaps more NBA-ready. George struggled at times in the summer league, which he finished by averaging 15.3 points and shooting just 33.3 percent.

"He's talented,'' Bird said. "We know his skill level. But he's got a lot of things that he's got to work on. One of them is his turnovers. He's very quick to give up the ball after the play has closed up and his strength. As he gets stronger in the next year or two, I think he's got a lot of talent to do very well in this league. Hes' got the speed, the quickness the jumping ability and he can shoot. ... It's going to take him a while. He's a late bloomer. He's not going to be a big impact the first couple of years.''

There are some who considered George a bit of reach with that high of a pick. But that doesn't bother the rookie.

"They're entitled to their opinion,'' he said. "I know what I can do and what I'm capable of. I've just got to continue to work hard and be positive that I can be one of the steals of this draft.''

For now, George isn't even being looked upon as the biggest draft steal on his own team. With the No. 40 pick in the second round, the Pacers selected Cincinnati guard Lance Stephenson, who averaged 14.8 points in Orlando while shooting 73.3 percent.

"It really doesn't surprise us,'' Bird said of Stephenson's play. "He knows how to play so he's going to look good here.''

There's another reason Bird might want to like Stephenson. He said he wore No. 33 in college because it was Bird's number while a Hall of Famer with the Celtics.

"Larry Bird was my favorite player and that's why I (wore) 33,'' said Stephenson, who donned No. 6 in Orlando. "But now I've got to find another number because Danny Granger has 33.''

Turns out Bird actually was Stephenson's second or third-favorite player. He had initially wanted No. 1 at Cincinnati because of Penny Hardaway and Tracy McGrady but that was taken by another player.

Nevertheless, Stephenson is excited about playing for a rebuilding Indiana outfit. And so is George.

"I think I'll be a key piece to this rebuilding we got going on,'' George said. "Josh McRoberts is an excellent player. And, with Troy Murphy, Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert, we've got a nice nucleus, and I think I can be a part of that.''

Murphy, who has an expiring contract and also can play, might not be a big part of the future. But you get the point.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at tomasson@fanhouse.com or on Twitter@christomasson
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