Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird is just two years removed from winning the NBA’s Executive of the Year Award. Based on a variety of head-scratching personnel moves he made in 2013-14, he'll need to do some soul-searching to ascend to that level again.
Nobody doubts Larry Legend’s status as a profound basketball mind, but his alterations to Indy’s roster in the past year have been questionable to say the least.
During the 2013 offseason, Bird struck a deal with Phoenix Suns first-year general manager Ryan McDonough that sent Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a first-round pick to the desert for veteran forward Luis Scola.
As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Nevertheless, Bird surrendered a first-round draft choice in addition to Green and Plumlee—who both became regular rotational cogs for a 48-win Suns team and started 127 games combined.
That’s a steep price to pay for Scola, especially considering he had declined in two straight seasons before joining up with the Pacers (where he wilted in a reduced role).
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that Green struggled mightily with the Pacers in 2012-13. But even so, the 28-year-old carved a niche as a hyper-athletic three-point sharpshooter in Phoenix. That’s something Indy’s bench sorely needed.
As for Plumlee, he never got a chance to display his skills behind Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi. That’s a bummer for Pacers fans, because he thrived as a starting center on the Suns despite a lack of NBA experience.
That offseason swap acted as a precursor to other perplexing managerial moves.
After much deliberation, Bird decided to trade veteran forward Danny Granger at the deadline for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. That prompted Indy’s second-half collapse, because Granger was a respected leader in the locker room. It certainly didn’t help that Turner and Lance Stephenson reportedly got into a practice-floor fistfight, per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. Team chemistry just continued to crumble.
Additionally, the tandem of Turner and Allen played a combined nine minutes in the Eastern Conference Finals—so much for improving the roster at the trade deadline.
Finally, Bird took a calculated risk by signing embattled center Andrew Bynum after he was traded to the Chicago Bulls and subsequently waived. That move failed miserably.
The 26-year-old played a grand total of two games in a Pacers uniform. Also, his arrival reportedly rattled the psyche of Roy Hibbert, which may have contributed to his drop-off in performance, per NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner.
USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt (h/t the Indianapolis Star) added the following insight with regard to the bizarre Bynum signing:
Bird made a concerted effort to rid the Pacers’ locker room of knuckleheads. His goal has been to create a championship-caliber team with a culture rooted in high-character players. Bynum might not be a bad guy, but he hasn’t been a good teammate since the Los Angeles Lakers traded him.
Bird got away from what earned him Executive of the Year honors by making rash, shortsighted decisions. He replaced at least one high-character guy (Granger) with someone who doesn’t fit that mold at all (Bynum).
Because the Pacers were unable to play up to the level they displayed pre-All-Star break, they’ve missed out on yet another NBA Finals appearance.
Now Bird and Co. have to revamp the roster to try and get over the hump. That starts in a few areas.
George Hill is one of the most fundamentally sound defensive point guards in the game. You don’t become Gregg Popovich’s favorite player at any point of your career without being disciplined on that end.
Nevertheless, Hill isn’t a prototypical floor general in terms of orchestrating an offense and handling the ball. Often that responsibility falls on the shoulders of Stephenson and Paul George. While both of those guys are stars within the Association, relying on them to score points in bunches while also setting up teammates may be too much a burden.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of free-agent point guards available to sign. Kyle Lowry, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas are the premier guys available, but their price tags will be too steep if Indy retains Stephenson. Signs point to management deciding to do just that, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
Perhaps a cagey veteran like Steve Blake or Luke Ridnour would fit the bill by leading the second unit.
While Stephenson’s antics in the Eastern Conference Finals and Hibbert’s overall dip in confidence are valid concerns, Indiana’s biggest problem is its bench.
During the regular season, the Pacers’ second unit ranked 27th in scoring with 26.4 points per game, according to NBA.com. It shot 43.3 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from the three-point line.
Throughout the entire campaign (regular season plus playoffs), Indiana’s efficiency recap—an estimate of overall performance utilizing points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and other stats—of 27.7 ranked it 29th in the league, per HoopsStats.com. Only the Portland Trail Blazers were worse.
Scola and C.J. Watson were the key contributors, which isn’t saying a lot, because their impact was mostly negligible.
Bird needs to redeem his sterling reputation by bringing in a collection of under-the-radar signings who can take pressure off the starting five. Perhaps that starts with bringing Granger back on a cheap contract—if Bird didn’t already burn that bridge by trading him.
The Pacers have a lot of work to do before they’re once again considered a serious threat to Miami’s reign of terror. Adding Scola, Bynum, Turner and Allen didn’t bring much to the table.
Bird needs to have a plan in mind to remedy past transactions and stop the bleeding when starters need a rest.