During 13 seasons as a player in the NBA, Larry Bird never released a shot he didn’t think was going to result in points.
Today, as one of the league’s front office executives, Bird refuses to stray from that mindset.
The trade that brought 6-foot-7 swingman Evan Turner and his 17.4 scoring average to the Pacers occurred 19 days after they rolled the dice with the Feb. 1 signing of 7-foot center Andrew Bynum.
The calendar’s shortest month produced the greatest amount of activity for a franchise that from late October through January was the talk of the NBA.
No chasing the Miami Heat. At 35-10, the Pacers seemed poised to lap the two-time defending world champions and sew up home-court advantage throughout the postseason.
Indiana has since been lowered a few notches, going 12-7 since the Bynum signing (even though he took part in only one game before Friday) and 5-4 with Turner on board.
Not prone to reach for panic buttons, Bird isn’t now.
The same basketball instincts responsible for pulling the franchise from its post-brawl abyss to its current standing as one of the NBA’s most admired tells Bird these moves were for the best.
“When you make decisions you have to stick with them, whether it’s a trade, a free agent or whatever,” Bird, the Pacers’ president, said following a team practice this week. “You’ve got to go with what you have, and ... I’ve made some moves lately that I felt were the best moves for the team, and I still feel that way.”
The trade for the 25-year-old Turner came off as a steal at the time. It still might be.
Understand, however, that Indiana hasn’t defeated an elite team since the former Ohio State star has been in town. The six victories since have come against the Los Angeles Lakers, two against both Boston and Milwaukee,
and a three-point escape at home against Utah.
Losses came against Golden State and during a three-game road swing in which the Pacers were barely competitive, losing to Charlotte, Houston and Dallas by a total of 59 points.
The one that stuck in Bird’s craw is the 98-96 loss to Golden State at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 4.
Indiana rallied to tie the score at 96-apiece after trailing the Warriors by double-figures much of the fourth quarter. But Paul George misfired on an ill-advised fade-away jump shot, which allowed Golden State to hit the winning basket with 0.6 seconds left.
“The game I was disappointed with was the one against Golden State before we left (for the road trip),” Bird said. “Score tied with the ball, and we take a step-back ‘3.’ That’s not how we play.”
Addressing the three rather unsightly losses that followed, Bird added, “We don’t like to make excuses when we lose, but the one thing that I knew, and I was a little disappointed in how we played because I know we’re better than that, is that you’re going to lose road games.”
The 17 regular-season games remaining would, at least on paper, appear favorable in terms of the Pacers being able to better work in their newest players while re-establishing its early- and midseason momentum.
Only seven are at home. However, of the 10 road tests only three of the opponents (Chicago, Washington and Miami) are above .500.
“We need to just improve on the things that have been hurting us a little bit in, really, the last month,” Bird said. “Set better screens, move the basketball, being unselfish and just play.”
Despite the team’s play of late, Bird — who took a one-year hiatus from the Pacers last year — strongly believes in the roster he’s played a major role in assembling.
“I’ve been disappointed with how we’ve been playing lately,” he said. “I know you don’t come out of it right away. It’s going to take some time, but I’m happy that we have a group of guys that care for one another. They do the things in the community you’re supposed to do, and they really care. They care about the franchise.
“They want to win as bad as I want to win. Now we’ve just got to do it.”