The Indiana Pacers sit atop their conference. According to the team boss, they also rank first in complacency.
Before defeating the Boston Celtics last night, Larry Bird’s Indiana Pacers boasted just a .500 record over the previous month. Despite their funk, the Pacers remain the top team in the Eastern conference and tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the second-best record in the NBA. But the team’s president of basketball operations isn’t happy.
“A lot of times, we don’t take the fight to them,” a frustrated Bird told the Indianapolis Star. “A lot of times we sit back and wait and see how it goes. And that was the case even when we were winning a lot of games early in the season. We’ve got to be mentally prepared to really go after the teams we’re playing.” The Pacers take on the 76ers on Friday followed by another road game at Detroit the next day.
Bird expressed surprise at the weak play of the Pacers bench. “They’re ranked 28th, so they are what they are,” he explained to the Star‘s Bob Kravitz. “I’m very disappointed in that. I thought they’d do a lot better for us.”
Bird even levied criticism at head coach Frank Vogel. “I’m sort of going to Frank’s side because he’s had so much success by staying positive,” Bird noted. “We do have to stay the course. But I also think he’s got to start going after guys when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. And stay on them, whether you’ve got to take them out of the game when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do or limit their minutes. I will say, he hasn’t done that enough.”
Known for his fierce competitiveness and trash talking as a player, Bird lighting into his team in such a public way shouldn’t surprise. The candid interview combines those two attributes that fans have always seen in him. The Hall of Famer evidently believes that by taking his criticism to the newspapers his team will be shamed into performing up to their talents. After a blistering 16-1 start, the Pacers couldn’t keep pace–with their initial burst or with other elite NBA teams. Bird, like many Pacers fans, believes the Paul George-led team could do better. With the playoffs fast approaching, Bird obviously feels that the time is right to reinvigorate.
“People ask me if I’m mad at them,” Bird divulged. “I’m not mad. I’m disappointed.”
In the game since Bird issued his comments, the Pacers won at home against the Celtics with the recently acquired Andrew Bynum playing his first minutes at center for Indiana. But the Star hadn’t published the article on the interview at that point, and it’s unclear whether Bird had said to his players what he had already said to the papers. “Sometimes,” Bird confessed about the Pacers, “I think, they’re not 100 percent committed to their jobs.”