Conseco Fieldhouse opened up their doors Thursday morning, and perhaps the most anticipated members of Indiana's National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise were not taking shots on the court. Pacers' President Larry Bird and General Manager David Morway were all smiles as they answered questions in a fifteen-minute sit-down with the local media from Indianapolis.
Major focal points of the session involved both executives' views on the shortened free agency period, one that has the eyes wide open for both Bird and Morway as they prepare for the sixty-six game 2011-2012 NBA season. But as they reiterated the fact over and over that they strongly believe the team is returning a strong core group of players at every position, the idea of adding a seasoned-winner to the roster or somebody that can improve the team as a whole, is the determined goal. But just because the team has the cap-room, does not necessarily mean they are going to go throwing out money at big name free agents just to do so.
"Well we have been pretty patient the last three years to get us here," said Bird on what he believes the team can do with what could possibly be $21 million in cap space. "I don't think there is a need to rush into things and make some decisions that is going to hurt us in the long run. But there are some players that we are very interested in, and we are going to make a move to try to get them."
The Pacers, who finished with a 35-47 record before losing to Chicago in the first round of the playoffs, already made a major move this past June with the addition of point guard George Hill. But where Indiana may see the greatest boost in their game may come from the younger names on the roster like a Roy HIbbert, a Tyler Hansbrough, and various other players who are still maturing into their NBA careers.
"Our players are going to be in pretty good shape when they come in," said Bird. "They are young, and I think the one thing we are looking forward to seeing how much they have improved over the summer because they are young. For us to get where we want to go, our players are going to have to improve every summer. You always wish they are out there working every day, but I know most of these guys are. They will get better just through hard work."
One of the difficulties of the free agency period that was addressed involved the fact that without a set agreement between the players and the owners just yet, nobody is 100% sure how to go about fully courting a player just yet.
"The process has definitely slowed down," said Morway. "We don't have all of the rule, we don't know what the rules are. The agents don't have all the rules. We don't know what the cap is yet, or what the numbers look like yet. So when all of that comes together, like Larry said, we'll see this thing move a long pretty quickly."
Morway went on to discuss how the Pacers have been game-planning this period the entire off-season, and the organization strongly believes they have the right mind-set to achieve their free agency plans. And if those goals are reached, both Morway and Bird believe the Pacers will be much-improved from the team that finished with the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference from the previous season.
"I know we are a better basketball team than we are last year when we started," said Bird. "And I think we are going to be even better once we get through this process. You want to improve every year, and I was very happy the way we finished and ended up getting into the playoffs. Unfortunately we didn't play better down the stretch of some of those games because we are so young, but when we talk about some of the players we are looking at (in free agency), some of them we feel like can help us at the end of games."
Among other topics touched on during the session outside of free agency involved just how happy the two were that the local businesses and employees of Conseco Fieldhouse could benefit from the team being back in play, how a Super Bowl in Indianapolis could potentially draw fans to Conseco during the week of the game, and how long Bird expects to stay with his current position with the team.
"Come on Mike, you are already asking that week one," laughed Bird at Indy Star beat reporter Mike Wells. "I can guarantee you that I'll be at my job longer than probably you will be at yours."