Bird: Jackson, others can shape up or play elsewhere
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird said the team's players will shape up or play elsewhere next season.
The Pacers entered this season with championship aspirations, but they traded an unhappy Ron Artest and dealt with numerous injuries on their way to a 41-41 record and a first-round playoff exit.
Bird said he likes the Pacers' talent and doesn't plan to make major changes this summer. But he made it clear Wednesday he's done dealing with bad attitudes, selfishness and laziness.
"They're the ones that have to make the changes," he said. "If they can't make the changes, yes, we have to look to move them."
Bird said he expects to build around Jermaine O'Neal, despite trade rumors.
"Jermaine O'Neal is our best player on this team. Everybody on this team knows Jermaine's our guy," Bird said. "I can't sit here today and say we're going to pursue to trade Jermaine O'Neal. There's not one time that we ever called anybody and said 'Hey, are you interested in Jermaine O'Neal?'
"I don't know who out there you could trade Jermaine for and get somebody better."
The Pacers also want to re-sign sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic, who came from Sacramento in the trade for Artest. He averaged 19.5 points in 40 regular-season games but missed four of Indiana's six playoff games, all losses to New Jersey.
"When I talked to Peja, he said he really likes it here and tells me he'd like to be here," Bird said.
Those who do return will need to help the team work cohesively.
"I know that a lot of guys were frustrated," Bird said. "There's a lot of things that happened in the locker room. I don't think our chemistry is as good as it could have been."
Players were critical of the team's performance after the series-ending Game 6 loss to New Jersey.
Bird didn't argue with Croshere's assessment and made observations similar to Johnson's on Wednesday.
As for center play, he said David Harrison is a young, raw talent who is improving, and Jeff Foster and Scot Pollard are hard workers who through injuries missed a combined 55 regular-season and four playoff games.
"That's frustration [from O'Neal]," Bird said. "I sort of felt bad when I heard that for Jeff and Scotty and David. You have those three guys healthy and playing, that's a pretty powerful unit there."
Stephen Jackson also has been considered possible trade bait, but his return could depend on his attitude. He played in all but one game and averaged 16.4 points this season, but Bird said Jackson spent too much time jawing with officials and taking poor shots.
"It's up to Stephen to do the right thing," Bird said. "I don't like some of the things he did this year. If he's back here, which I expect him to be, there's going to be some changes. I don't like our fans booing our players, but some of the things Stephen was doing out on the court frustrated me. I was embarrassed at times."
Bird said coach Rick Carlisle deserves some of the blame for the team's lack of discipline and that Carlisle should expect more from his players.
"I think with everything that happened last year, you could probably look and say yes, he did lose the team at times," Bird said. "But they're good guys and they know what to do to win ballgames. He's a great coach, there's no question."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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