Larry Bird says Pacers will make call on Paul George's position

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS -- Larry Bird's sales pitch was good enough to get two free agents to sign with theIndiana Pacers.

He's still trying to convince Paul George that playing power forward will be a good move, too.

After announcing the signings of three players Tuesday, Indiana's president of basketball operations made his most extensive and direct comments yet about playing the 6-foot-9, 220-pound swingman at a new spot.

"I'm not going to get into a battle about where Paul George will play," Bird said. "He's a basketball player, and we can put him anywhere out there."

Bird believes George will be freed to do more offensively and be healthier if he's not chasing players around the court.

But the debate has raged all summer.

While critics contend that the two-time All-Star could get overwhelmed by bigger, stronger opponents inside, Bird believes the two-time all-NBA defensive player will hold up just fine and will actually be a more productive player.

The flurry of offseason moves has left no doubt that George will get some time as a stretch-4. The question is how much time?

Before heading to Florida to watch the Pacers' summer league team play, coach Frank Vogel told reporters he had not determined how much time George would log at power forward. On Saturday at a local basketball camp, George said that while he's willing to play anywhere, he didn't anticipate playing 30 minutes per game at that spot.

Bird made one thing clear Tuesday.

"He don't make the decisions around here. But I did it, and I loved it after I did it," Bird said, drawing laughter.

He added later: "I know what it did for my career and coming off this injury, I think it would be a good thing because he can still guard some threes, but he doesn't have to do it all the time."

The straight-shooting Bird took a very different tone when wooing shooting guard Monta Ellis and center Jordan Hill in free agency.

Bird told Ellis, a dynamic shooting guard, he was the missing piece in Indiana's championship puzzle. Ellis was sold almost instantly.

"He said all the right things," Ellis said after signing the four-year $44 million deal he agreed to last week. "It was an easy choice. It made me feel great because they wanted me."

In the case of Hill, a 6-foot-10, 235-pound post player, it didn't take much prodding after the Lakers let him walk away.

"It's a new start for me," he said. "It's a real good franchise."

The Pacers expect Ellis to help them change the offense. The 6-foot-3 guard has averaged 19.3 points and 4.8 assists during a 10-year career.

Hill is likely to compete for a starting job, too, after averaging 12.0 points and 7.9 rebounds in Los Angeles last season.

Indiana also introduced forward Chase Budinger on Tuesday after picking him up in a weekend trade from Minnesota. Budinger also could compete for a starting job.

There are questions about both players as defenders, something even Bird acknowledged.

Then again, Bird never anticipated making so many changes -- until David West opted out of his contract.

"Everything we did this summer was because of his decision," Bird said.

Now the plan is to play small and dream big.

After finishing as the Eastern Conference runner-ups in 2013 and 2014 then missing the playoffs as George sat out all but six games because of a broken right leg, the Pacers have recast themselves. Vogel has made no secret that his goal is to exceed the successes his previous teams achieved.

Ellis bought in right away.

"I really felt there was a winning mentality, a winning attitude here," Ellis said. "Indiana felt like the best fit, the best for me and I love how they approach the game."

All he has to do now is convince George that the position change will work in his favor.

"I weighed 225 pounds and I'm still walking around," Bird said. "I think it [the size factor] is overrated."


Indiana signed second-round pick Joe Young on Tuesday. ... Bird said first-round pick Myles Turner is even better than he thought and would play a "lot" of minutes. ... On the notion of whether the Pacers could gain offensively without giving up something defensively, Bird said: "Never. But if we score eight points more per game and give up two points more per game, that's plus six."

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