INDIANAPOLIS — Larry Bird always thought the Indiana Pacers needed to score more often.
Now, he may have a point guard who can finally get it done.
After acquiring Indianapolis native Jeff Teague in a three-team deal and making several other significant moves this summer, the Pacers will report to training camp next week with a new coach, an overhauled roster and a brand new opportunity to win an NBA championship.
“George Hill was great for us, but I think he was more of a half-court player who did a really good job,” new coach Nate McMillan said Wednesday before the Pacers’ annual pre-camp golf outing at Brickyard Crossing. “I think Teague will be able to do both (half-court and up-tempo) for us. We want him to look to establish that tempo in transition and we haven’t really had that guy in the four years I’ve been here.”
For Teague, this is more just than a homecoming — it’s a fresh start for a 28-year-old point guard oozing with talent.
He needs it.
A year ago, the expectation was that Teague would follow up his first All-Star season by taking the next logical step and emerging as one of the NBA’s elite point guards. Instead, his minutes, scoring and assist totals all declined as Atlanta decided to go in a different direction.
After the season, Teague used Twitter to explain he had played the entire season with a partially torn patellar tendon in his knee.
While the injury required rest and an injection, it didn’t require surgery. Bird wasn’t scared off, and now it looks like the gamble could pay dividends.
“In the workouts, he looked fine,” Bird said. “It’s not two-a-days yet, so you really don’t know yet, but it’s encouraging. From all indications, he looks pretty good.”
Not long ago, the Pacers and Teague seemed like an unlikely pairing.
During the 2009 draft, Teague wanted the Pacers to select him at No. 13. Instead, Bird took former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough, and Teague went to Atlanta at No. 19.
In 2013, when Teague became a restricted free agent and the Pacers could have upgraded at point guard, Teague opted for a four-year, $32 million offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks. Atlanta matched it.
In February, rumors surfaced of a potential deal that would have sent Hill to Atlanta for Teague, but that never materialized either. Then in June, Bird finally pulled off the move by sending a first-round pick to Atlanta and Hill to the Jazz for the point guard Indiana had been looking to help them play small ball.
Now Teague is just trying to fit in. He spent most of the summer working out in Indy, and started playing pickup ball with many of his new teammates in mid-August.
The early impressions have given Teague renewed hope about the Pacers and their expanded expectations.
“A lot of people can play with the ball and create opportunities for others. In Atlanta, we had a lot of really good players but a lot of those guys were system players,” Teague said. “Here, we’ve got a lot of people who can create for others and that makes my job a lot easier.”
And more enjoyable.
The only real question is how long Teague will stick around. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent after this season, and while Teague said he would like to stay in Indianapolis long term and Bird has expressed his desire to get an extension done sooner rather than later, nothing has happened.
But if all goes as well as planned, this could turn out to be a perfect match.
“Last year, they walked the ball up a lot and were still able to play that way. We’re smaller now, and we can play a lot faster,” Teague said. “I think this could be something special.”
Notes: Bird also made it clear that he doesn’t intend to let three-time All-Star and new Olympic gold medalist Paul George get away anytime soon. The 26-year-old George already has a max deal that runs through 2018-19. But whenever George is ready to sign an extension, Bird promised to make it happen. Bird said: “We want Paul here and we know what it’s going to cost and what it’s going to take. If Paul wants to get a deal done, we will. It’s a max deal. There’s no others, so there’s no use talking about it. If he wants it, he’s got it.”