Pacers' Paul George may be cornerstone rejected by others

June 28, 2010
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When the newest Indiana Pacer, Paul George, was asked why he went to Fresno State—not exactly a hoops hotbed—his answer caught me by surprise. In fact, it blew me away.

I had heard of Paul George for several weeks leading up to last Thursday’s NBA draft. This was the guy who could be the real sleeper of the 2010 draft, basketball experts said.

But until Friday, I had never heard from George.

His simple answer to a complex question during his first meeting with the Indianapolis media showed me that George could be the most business and marketing savvy player on the Pacers roster.

George said he went to Fresno State because they had a beautiful arena, and he wanted to help “fill it up,” adding he wanted to help build the program.

Now how many 18-year-old kids do you know that are concerned about selling tickets, filling arenas, facilities utilization and program building? Maybe I’m giving George too much credit. But I don’t think so.

An answer to a question a few minutes later gave me further insight into what makes this guy tick.

George was asked why he left Fresno State after two years. He didn’t balk and he didn’t waffle. He stated simply, matter-of-factly that the chemistry had become bad there, and it was no place for him to grow—personally or professionally.

I hope this guy turns out to be as good as basketball draft analysts say that he can be. Because he sure talks one heck of a game, and I mean that in the best way.

I criticized Larry Bird last year for drafting Tyler Hansbrough, putting too much emphasis on character and not enough on raw talent and potential. This year, I praise Bird for perhaps doing the same thing.

I have nothing against Hansbrough, and actually hope he heals and can be part of rebuilding the Pacers. But the jury still out on that.

But with George, I think Bird has gotten it exactly right. This looks like a guy who has equal parts star talent and character.

George didn't get lots of looks from big-time programs coming out of high school. And he slipped through the pre-draft workouts mostly unnoticed. Could he be the cornerstone rejected by others? Bird can only hope his prodigy has those types of savior-like qualities.

For those worried about the team having too many wings and not enough dribblers, they’ve missed a subtle yet very important change within the Pacers franchise. The team’s culture is spinning 180 degrees from where it was just three years ago.

Some still wonder what’s taking so long. Bird is finding that it’s much more difficult to change a team’s culture as a player personnel boss than it was as a star player.

But I think he may finally be turning the corner. With only a year left on his Pacers contract, I’m sure he’s hoping it’s not too late.

While George was peppered with questions from the media last Friday, Pacers Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush and A.J. Price were working up a lather in the weight room 50 feet away. Josh McRoberts and a handful of other Pacers are also regulars there during the off-season.

You might ask, what’s so unusual about that? After all, they’re highly paid professional athletes and should be ready when the season begins. But that’s not the way it works with many teams and players.

Four years ago, you could have fired a cannon across the Conseco Fieldhouse weight room at any time during the off-season and had little chance of hitting a player pumping iron.

But it remains a difficult sell in this era of instant gratification. The progress is indeed difficult to discern. It’s easy to think that progress doesn’t exist.

Yes, the Pacers still desperately need a point guard. But Bird knows those are relatively easy to come by.

There are much rarer commodities in the NBA; People who fit your culture and who will work hard without prodding. And players who understand this is a business. That it’s about making sure your employer gets made whole. And that your customers get their money’s worth.

In Paul George, the Pacers get all of that.

    Schoettle, you must have gotten called to the Principal's office (Jim Morris). Larry Bird is a joke as a GM. And David Moron, or Morway is even worse. Bird fired Isiah. He hired Rick C. He gave Rick an extension and then fired him four months later. Then he hired O'Brien who nobody wanted. And then gave him an extension. And guess who he will fire this year? He gave Austin Croshere millions. He told us Jonathan Bender would be next Magic Johnson. He drafted James White, gave him a 2-year guaranteed contract and then cut him in camp. He signed Jeskevichuis and he sucked. He drafted Rush, missed on Bayless. He drafted Hansbrough & missed on ALL those PGs. Now, he drafts a real bad guy in dude from Cincy. The big guy in 2nd round CAN'T play and then this project with the No. 10 overall. They sign Earl Watson to a one year deal and he's gone. Over pay for Dahntay Jones to help "D" along with Dick Harter -- see any improvement on D? People in the NBA laugh at these moves. Our NBA team will NOT be any good until old No. 33 is sent back to the golf courses of Florida. Only good thing in six years was getting Granger. Hey Simon, hire Mark Jackson NOW!
    • patience
      I don't think Larry Legend is exactly the Wizard of Oz working magic behind the curtain, but I do think he's making progress with this franchise. Rome didn't get built in a day. I don't think the roster is done being manipulated this off-season. So have a little patience.
    • Easy Mel. Easy big fella
      I admit, you make some solid points Mel. And I'm not here to say Larry Bird is on the precipice of a championship. But I have noticed a culture shift from the days of Jamal Tinsley, et al. And I don't think that's an easy thing to do. I don't think Larry is done making roster changes this off-season. And I think he realizes he may have to trade off the likes of Granger to get this team rebuilt. I'm willing to give Larry Bird until at least one more season to improve his lot and that of the franchise. And if the Pacers are no better in 10 months, Bird's contract is expired, and he and O'Brien are out the door. By the way, I don't think you can blame Larry for firing Isiah. You can blame Donnie Walsh for hiring him, but I don't think you can blame Larry for firing him. Stay tuned, and as always, thanks for reading.
      • Mel?
        Just wondering if this is Mel Daniels whose jersey hangs in the rafters at Conseco? If so I know you have a right to be bitter, but don't think this is the place. You have more class. If not Mel then please tell us.
      • we're waiting
        well, Mel. We're waiting. Is that really you? I doubt it. Or maybe you did stick your big size 18 in your mouth. Give us some proof.
      • Moves
        How many of the moves that Mel mentions were Walsh moves and how many were Bird's? I thought both Croshere and Bender were Walsh moves - and bad ones.

        As far as the D that begins and ends with Granger. As the team leader, he needs to commit himself to D and the team will follow.
      • BIRD BRAIN
        Seriously, how many Pacers fans really feel Larry Birdbrain knows what he is doing? There can't be that many dumb asses in this town. He is a complete, over paid (5 mill a year for going on 7 years) moron. Speaking of morons, have you caught the egotistical act of former agent now GM, David Moronway? My friends work in sales at the Pacers and say the guy is a complete fraud. His ego is too big for the building. And he knows nothing about basketball. Simon needs to hire the GM from Portalnd and get Mark Jackson as coach. Flush out your stinky front office Simon. Or you will lose and lose - money and games for a long, long time!!!!!
      • Wow
        Pretty accurate assessment

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