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Bird plays his cards close to the vest about Pacer top pick in NBA Draft

Posted Tuesday, June 21, 2011, at 4:59 PM

Larry Bird can't help but smile while being asked questions during a press conference leading up to Thursday's NBA Draft. Bird said he will be making the Pacers picks at No. 15 and No. 42. (By B.J. Hargis/Greene County Daily World).
INDIANAPOLIS -- I don't know if Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird has any aspirations of playing in the World Series of Poker, but there is no doubt that he could fit right in with the best of them.

Bird kept his cards well guarded and played them pretty close to the vest during his annual press conference Tuesday morning here at Conseco Fieldhouse leading up the NBA Draft, which is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

"There are four guys that we like and we expect at least two of them to be there when we pick," Bird said of who might be available when the Pacers select 15th in the first round. "We need a lot of help. We need somebody that can step in and play right away, whether that be somebody that could score 20 points a game or somebody that could come off the bench."

Bird said this is a good draft, but not a great one, as several potential top picks decided to stay another year in college. But he quickly clarified his statement.

"That is at the top of the draft," he said. "There might not be any franchise changing players, but there are some good players in this draft that should be able to help teams and play in this league a long time."

Bird shied away from questions about specific players, not wanting to tip his hand about who he might select Thursday night. He even jokingly chided a reporter who dared to inquire, "Why did you ask that question," Bird said with a smile on his face.

He also said that every year a player or two falls and could be available at 15, making his job even harder.

"There is one European kid that we would be interested in, if he would fall to us," said Bird. "But when you are talking about European players, you have to be concerned with their contracts, buyouts and where they want to play.

"Also you have to be concerned how long it would be before they would come over to the NBA. We don't really want to wait a year on a player, but we might have to talk about it. No matter what, we are going to get somebody who can play."

The Pacers have 2007 draft pick Stanko Barac, a 7-1, 230-pound center playing in Europe. Reports have indicated that Barac has shown improvement and is ready to compete in America.

Bird said he would love to have him come over now, but that it is mostly likely a year away.

Earlier on Tuesday, there were the rumors that Indiana was offering center Roy Hibbert and the No. 15 pick to Minnesota for their No. 2 selection. Bird quickly squelched those rumors.

"That is not going to happen," said Bird. "I like Roy. He is one of the hardest working players that we have.

"I like our corps group of guys."

Later in the press conference, Bird did admit that he wants the Pacers to keep improving, no matter what the cost.

"Nobody is untouchable," Bird said of when ask about the possibility of a trade before the draft or afterwards. "I will do whatever it takes to make this team better. Thirty-seven wins is not acceptable."

Bird was referencing the 37-45 record the Pacers posted in 2010-11, which was good enough to earn the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Indiana lost in five close games to the Chicago Bulls in the first round, the first time the Pacers had made the playoffs in five seasons.

Although the Pacers improved offensively during the final 38 games under interim coach Frank Vogel (who is in the running to have the interim tag removed), they struggled to score against the Bulls.

"We need guys that can score," said Bird. "It doesn't matter what position they play. We will take the best player available.

"Ideally you would like to get guys that can score closer to the basket, but we need to improve offensively. We are hoping to get two guys that can make us deeper. I want to have 10 guys that can play. I want to have the deepest bench in the league. It doesn't matter if some guys that start now come off the bench or not. I just want to have 10 guys that can get the job done consistently and that's what we are building toward."

The current collective bargaining agreement will end at midnight Thursday, June 30, one week after the draft. Bird said he has no control about when a new CBA will be reached or how long a lockout would last.

"We will go on with business as usual," he said. "We will push forward."

Bird, who also will have the No. 42 pick overall in the second round, said they hope to name a new coach soon. Vogel is still not a lock to have the interim tag removed from his title.

"Frank will get the first and last interview," said Bird. "I really like Frank. He is doing all of the work. I have sat down and talked with him a few times. But we feel like he needs to have more of a veteran coaching staff.

"But we have a lot of interest in the job. We are not in a hurry. We will go through the process. Hopefully it will not take more than a week or two."

Other topics Bird touched on included:

*Saying that back-up guard Lance Stephenson, a second-round pick last year, is the best player on the Pacer roster. Most assume he meant the say the player with the most potential. Bird said he made mistakes when he was young, like Stephenson, and that Lance just has to mature.

*Bird said that center Jeff Foster, a free agent who is likely to retire, has been shadowing him lately and might some day take his job.

*Admitting that he made mistakes with draft picks Shawne Williams and David Harrison, adding that he wished that Williams, who has resurrected his career with the Knicks, was playing power forward for the Pacers now.

*When pressed, said that Jimmer Fredette and Marshon Brooks, players linked to the Pacers in some mock drafts, were both going to be good NBA players.

*They won't likely spend all of their available money in free agency this off season. T.J. Ford, Mike Dunleavy, Foster, Solomon Jones and Josh McRoberts are unrestricted free agents and their futures are uncertain. Also they finally paid off former guard Jamaal Tinsley.

*Said he liked Purdue's JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore and Butler's Matt Howard and thought all three would be drafted.

The draft will be televised at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.

B.J. Hargis is the sports editor at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487, ext. 12 or at hargisbj@gmail.com.

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