INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Larry Bird is looking at the big picture. Indiana is tight on money so the Pacers’ president of basketball operations sent the team’s single draft pick to the New York Knicks for cash.
The Pacers selected Louis Labeyrie in the second round with the 57th overall pick of the NBA draft Thursday night — and then turned around and sent the 6-foot-10 forward to the New York Knicks.
Bird wants Lance Stephenson back in Indiana next season and he’ll do pretty much anything to make it happen.
“I’ve got a certain amount I’m going to pay him and I’m not going over that, I do know that,” Bird said. “But it’s going to be a very good contract. It’s a very, very fair contract.”
Bird needs the money to make it happen. The Pacers signed center Roy Hibbert to a big contract in 2012 and signed All-Star Paul George to a significant long-term deal last year. Indiana also re-signed forward David West in the 2013 offseason, leaving the Pacers strapped for cash.
But Bird won’t talk about a new contract with Stephenson until next Tuesday, when free agency begins. That doesn’t mean the two aren’t talking about other things. The pair met Thursday morning for the second time since the Pacers were eliminated last month from the playoffs. Bird said discussions only went as far as addressing his thoughts on the season and how the year ended when Indiana was knocked out of the Eastern Conference finals by the Miami Heat for the second consecutive year; Stephenson’s behavior at times seemed like a distraction for the Pacers, who stumbled late in the season despite clinching the No. 1 seed in the East.
“If we do bring him back here, I made it pretty clear what I expect,” Bird said. “Some of the things he did at the end of the year concerned me and I just want to make sure we’re on the same going forward.”
After winning the Central Division for the second straight year, the Pacers entered the draft with just a single pick and came away with no new players.
They gave up their first-round selection in a 2013 offseason trade that sent forward Luis Scola to Indiana from Phoenix for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and the first-round pick.
Indiana’s pick of Labeyrie, who last played for Paris-Levallois in the French ProA league and averaged 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in 24 games, wasn’t for nothing. The cash could help Bird secure the pieces to winning a championship and he’s not looking far for the players he wants.
“Our goal right now is to bring some of the players we had here this year back,” he said. “I’m pretty set with our core group and we’re going to give them another shot. They almost got there two years in a row. I think they deserve another shot.”
Along with Stephenson, Bird specifically listed forward Lavoy Allen as another free agent Indiana wants to resign. But the free agent everyone is asking about is still Stephenson, who set a franchise record five triple-doubles in the regular season.
“Lance wants to be here, there’s no question about it,” Bird said. “He’s made that clear. So now it’s just about getting the terms right and trying to get him back.”
Meanwhile, Stephenson has been at the team’s arena working out each day.
“We’ll see, after he signs, if he’s still here every day,” Bird quipped.