Almost five hours into the draft, the Pacers were finally on the clock. With the guy they targeted taken a few picks prior, the team opted to trade its 57th selection to New York, who took Louis Labeyrie, in exchange for cash. Having already traded their first-round pick, the Pacers didn’t add to their roster Thursday night.
“Well, that was a waste of two weeks,” Pacers President Larry Bird joked with reporters after the draft had concluded.
Bird said it’s awful feeling to go through everything they did only to do nothing. But they all felt that it was the right decision.
“It just goes to show you, you got to be in the first round,” Bird said. “You like to be there and it’s more exciting. … The decision was made if our guy’s not there, were just not going to make the pick and that’s what happened.”
Bird refused to reveal who the mystery player was.
“Can’t remember,” he said. “We brought him in. He played very well. Our scouts scouted him all year. We all liked him and we thought maybe he’d get there. But he didn’t so there’s no use to just taking someone and then cutting him three weeks later. My owner don’t like to sell picks. He don’t want no part of that but that’s the only option we had.”
There were, however, opportunities for them to move into the first round.
“But the (tax) penalty is getting higher and higher in this league,” Bird explained. “It’s more than just swapping future picks. And there was a couple guys in the first round we thought late in the 20s we would really like to have but they were gone also.”
The Pacers had nearly 50 players in for workouts, however only two workouts with 12 guys total were made public.
They were without a first-round pick (No. 27) after trading it, along with Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green, last July for the rights to Luis Scola, a veteran power forward Pacers President Larry Bird coveted for years now. Phoenix opted to take Serbian Bogdan Bogdanovic with that pick.
Still, Bird doesn’t regret that move.
“…You look up there at the 27th pick, you can’t get a better player than him for what we’re trying to do here,” he said of Scola.
“The only reason we didn’t pick a player is because we don’t know what is going to happen in free agency,” Bird added. “And this is one year we are tight on money. If our guy wasn’t there, we weren’t going to take a stab at it because we got Lance [Stephenson], we got Lavoy [Allen], we got some other guys we’re looking at. In free agency, you never know where we’re going to be. Our owner (Herb Simon) said we can spend up to the tax. That’s what we’re looking forward to do.”
The Pacers have eight players with guaranteed contracts next season. Both Luis Scola and Donald Sloan’s deals are not fully guaranteed. The team’s No. 1 goal this offseason is re-signing guard Lance Stephenson, who is due his first big contract. They can begin negotiating on July 1, the first day of free agency.
Bird spoke with Stephenson again on Thursday and he has a good feel of the situation. Bird made it clear to Stephenson what he’d expect of him should he return.
“Lance wants to be here,” Bird said, “there’s no question about it. He wants to be here. So now it’s just getting the terms right and try to get him back.”
Outside of a few other possible subtle moves, Bird believes staying the course is their best option.
“I’m pretty set with our core group,” he said confidently. “We’re going to give them another shot. They almost got there two years in a row. I think they deserve another shot.”