Posts Tagged ‘Larry Bird’

Dog days just starting for George’s Indiana teammates


VIDEO: Larry Bird expresses his goals for the 2014-15 Indiana Pacers

Unbridled enthusiasm at the start of any NBA season is natural. Irrational exuberance, that’s something quite different, particularly for the Indiana Pacers this fall.

Maybe that’s why Larry Bird put back in perspective Tuesday any overly optimistic prognoses for star wing player Paul George‘s rehab and return. Yes, the world has seen footage of the Pacers’ hobbled All-Star on the court hoisting perimeter shots. It even has seen him playing a little 1-on-1 with his dog (we’ll leave any snarky comments about rival defenders to you guys).

But that’s a long, long way from the rigors and demands of NBA basketball, as Bird reminded a group of reporters. Paul, who suffered multiple fractures of his lower right leg in a gruesome injury at the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas in early August, still is likely to miss the entire 2014-15 season.

“He’s got a rod in his leg. Holding that bone together. And it’s gotta heal,” the Pacers’ president of basketball operations said. “Looks good against his dog, and while he’s standing out there in front of you guys it looks pretty good. Other than that, he don’t do nothin’.”

George being around the team, when he’s not immersed in rehab, is good for his and his teammates’ psyches. But as determined as he has to be in his comeback from the nasty mishap, that’s how the other Pacers have to approach a difficult season that grew more grim as lesser injuries stacked up in the preseason. Power forward David West (ankle sprain) and guards George Hill (knee), C.J. Watson (foot) and Rodney Stuckey (foot) all missed time and will be unavailable or, in Stuckey’s case, limited in the team’s opener Wednesday.

Not that a Bird team would have room for sissies anyway, but the short-term figures to be rather trying. The team’s bench will be thinned by all the reserves — Luis Scola, Donald Sloan, C.J. Miles, Solomon Hill — pressed into starters’ minutes.

“We’re gonna play,” Bird said. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen. These [backup] guys are not used to playing a lot of minutes, they’re going to. It’s not really just taking your lumps. It’s just playin’ — and tryin’ to get better as we go.”

For the franchise that began last season with championship ambitions and began the postseason as the East’s No. 1 seed, the expectations have been dampened. With a roster full at 15, there’s no Bird, McHale or Parish walking through that door — or George either.

“Even when I was playin’, I was out one whole year and we had some of the guys dinged up, but somehow we found a way to battle and win some games,” Bird said. “Our expectation is to get in the playoffs. That’s what we want to do. We’re down a little bit right now, but we think we can make up for it.”

Bird heaped some praised on George Hill for the improvement he had shown before getting hurt. Also, besides cautioning the media against fast-tracking hopes about George’s return, he warned against expecting too much from center Roy Hibbert, a former All-Star whose play dropped off badly last spring. He’s not going to become Hakeem Olajuwon or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offensively, just by process of elimination or the fact that he has been tutored by both.

“Nah. Roy’s not that type of player,” Bird said. “Roy’s a defensive player. He’s got to protect the rim and, obviously, I’d like to see him score a few more points but not a lot. I think it’s important for him to rebound better than he has in the past, but we’re not putting a lot of weight on Roy’s shoulders because that’s not the type of player he is.”

The weight is on all of the Pacers and, frankly, until a lot of time and healing passes, it probably will be a little more than they can bear.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 174) Featuring Bob Ryan

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’ve been having these arguments for years. In barber shops and sports bars, basement man caves and back porches. No one ever wins or loses either, because the debate never ends.

Would Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell be as dominant today as they were in their day? What about Oscar Robertson today or Shaq, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James back then?

Whose game transcends time?

Everyone will pick Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and other members of the NBA’s all-time elite. But for the rest of the mere mortals … who’s to say a great athlete in today’s game would automatically dominate a bygone era when athleticism was not at the premium it is now?

No one can answer with certainty. Educated guesses are still the best anyone can do in this regard.  Unless, of course, you are Bob Ryan, the retired Boston Globe columnist and living and breathing basketball encyclopedia, a man who has literally seen it all, from one era to another and another and another. His new memoir, “SCRIBE: My Life in Sports” is a must read, by the way.

He joins us on Episode 174 of the Hang Time Podcast to stoke the age-old debate we revisit often around here. Whose game could shuffle through time and remain as potent in one dimension as it would in another?  

Dive into Episode 174 to find out where we all stand …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Hakeem: Howard is ‘ready’ for an MVP-type season

Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon (left) has seen Dwight Howard’s game mature and grow of late. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least one former MVP doesn’t think it should have taken a broken bone in Kevin Durant’s foot to throw the 2015 MVP race wide open.

According to Hakeem Olajuwon, Dwight Howard was already prepared to kick the door down.

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to be named MVP of the regular season, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season when he led the Rockets in 1994 and pulled the wagon again as Finals MVP when Houston repeated in 1995. He and Michael Jordan are the only players to win all three awards in their career.

Olajuwon doesn’t believe there is any reason the Rockets, who finished as the No. 4 seed in the West and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Portland last spring, should fall back, even with the departure of rotation players Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“They have Dwight and they have James Harden,” he said. “That is two of the best players at their positions in the league. Those two can lead. Those two can do enough. You don’t need to have All-Stars at every position.

“The Rockets will need good play from some young players and from others who will be getting their chance to be key players for the first time in their careers. But when we won our first championship in 1994, we had Sam Cassell, who was a rookie, playing at the end of games and making a difference. When we won in 1995, we had Clyde (Drexler). But we also had Pete Chilcutt in the starting lineup and Chucky Brown and Charles Jones stepping up off the bench.

“When you have Howard and Harden, you have two players who can do much of the scoring. What you need are others to not try to do too much. Just concentrate on doing your job and coming to play every night.”

It begins and ends with Howard.

“We all know that center is the key position in the game,” Olajuwon said. “Everything should go through you — offense and defense and the right mentality. If the center is thinking about dominating, the team can go far, can go all the way.

“I played at a time when were so many players that could win the MVP each year — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. It meant you weren’t going to win the MVP every year. But you had to play like an MVP and have your name in the conversation. I believe that’s where Dwight is now. He is healthy. He is physically fit. He is strong. He wants to win.

“It is about attitude. He should have a season that makes everyone vote for him as MVP. If that happens, they should be contenders for the championship. I believe that. Now they have to believe it.”


VIDEO: Hakeem Olajuwon schools Dwight Howard on post moves back in 2010

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 173) Road Trip

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That fatigue you hear in our voices is real. Chew up nearly 4,000 miles of American highway on a luxury bus in search of some basketball’s biggest names and you’d feel it, too. We did six cities in seven days and did not let up.

The Hang Time Road Trip was real. We lived every wild and crazy minute of it and you will get a chance to see all of the things we did Wednesday night on the Hang Time Road Trip wrapup special (10 p.m. ET, NBA TV). 

We witnessed the return of LeBron James in his first game back in Cleveland. We saw Pau Gasol‘s first steps as a Chicago Bull. We picked Larry Bird‘s brain about where the Indiana Pacers go from here. We got an in-depth explanation of the rebuilding plan in Philadelphia from Sixers CEO Scott O’Neal. We dove into the mind of Lance Stephenson, now of the Charlotte Bobcats. And we fired questions at Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher about the Knicks. And we even dipped into the college ranks with a guided tour of North Carolina’s pristine facilities with Roy Williams.

And that’s just the basketball portion of the trip.

We had just as much fun away from the game, touring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I got my hair cut at President Obama‘s spot in Chicago, we watched Lang work the kitchen at Tony Luke’s and we all dined in fine fashion at Red Rooster, the world-famous Harlem eatery owned by celebrity chef and Knicks fanatic Marcus Samuelsson.

You’ll see all of that and more during Wednesday’s Hang Time Road Trip wrapup special on NBA TV Wednesday (10 p.m.) But in the meantime you can get a sense of the magnitude of the trip on Episode 173 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Road Trip

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Larry Bird joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on the bus

Hang Time Road Trip: Home Sweet Home!


VIDEO: The Lord of the Rings, Phil Jackson, joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on the bus

By Sekou Smith

HANGTIME HEADQUARTERS – The final tally was somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,925 miles. give or take a hundred miles or so.

That’s the amount of road real estate we traveled during the Hang Time Road Trip, which ended early Saturday morning after a week of grinding from Cleveland through the upper tier of the Central Division and on to Philly, New York and finally to Tar Heel country in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

We’re all home now. It’s back to normal, whatever that means after spending seven nights on a luxury bus with 11 grown men all trying to carve out their own space on a daily basis.

It would be impossible to boil our trip down to just a few words or video snippets, which is why the Hang Time Road Trip wrap-up special (Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on NBA TV) will shine even more light on the maiden voyage for the Hang Time Podcast crew.

Between Lang Whitaker‘s daily updates on the All Ball blog and Rick Fox‘s work on social media, we tried to make sure you could follow us along every step of our journey. We began in Cleveland chasing LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers.

But that was only the beginning.

Chicago brought an in-depth conversation with Pau Gasol, not to mention Washington Wizards’ young stars John Wall and Bradley Beal making it onto the bus (not to mention an impromptu visit from Drew Gooden and a chance meeting with Scottie Pippen). We also made a visit to the Hyde Park Hair Salon, President Obama‘s home shop, so I could get cleaned up.

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VIDEO: Pau Gasol joins the Hang Time Podcast crew in Chicago

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Indianapolis saw Hall of Famer and Pacers boss Larry Bird brave the rain (for all of about 10 feet) to make his way onto the couch in the front of the bus, where we broke down what his team is facing this season and the intriguing situation he faces in trying to keep the Pacers among the NBA elite.

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VIDEO: Larry Bird joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on the bus

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Philadelphia gave us a chance to not only speak with Sixers CEO Scott O’Neal and Charlotte Hornets swingman Lance Stephenson, but also the ideal lunch date at cheese steak wizard Tony Luke‘s South Philly spot. You might have seen Lang trying to get his flip on in the kitchen.

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VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew chops it up with Lance Stephenson on the Hang Time Road Trip bus

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Our stop in New York included an unbelievable visit to Harlem and Marcus Samuelsson‘s famed Red Rooster restaurant, one of the hottest spots in the city with one of the best chefs on the planet. He jst happens to be a huge Knicks and NBA fan, which was the perfect appetizer for Thursday’s trip to the Knicks’ practice facility where we talked to both Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher on the bus.

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VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew at Tony Luke’s

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Wrapping things up in Rick’s old stomping grounds was the ideal ending for this trip. UNC coach Roy Williams gave us a guided tour of the pristine facilities in Chapel Hill and provided some context on our partner and his roots dating all the way back to his high school and college days on campus.

Again, the bits and pieces you can put together now only tell part of the story. A clearer picture will come Wednesday night when you tune into NBA TV (10 p.m. ET) and ride with us from start to finish on the Hang Time Road Trip.

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VIDEO: Knicks coach Derek Fisher joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on the bus

Hang Time Road Trip: Lance Being Lance

By Sekou Smith

PHILADELPHIA – By the time the Indiana Pacers’ tumultuous 2013-14 season had come to an end, the phrase “Lance Being Lance” had come to mean many things for Lance Stephenson, the mercurial shooting guard with loads of talent and a deep bag of tricks to work with on the court.

Fast forward to training camp this season and the Charlotte Hornets need Lance to be exactly who and what he is, one of the most versatile and competitive players in the NBA.

We caught up with Lance during our Philly stop on the Hang Time Road Trip and found out how the change of scenery, courtesy of his free agent decision to start fresh in Charlotte, is working out for him.


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew chops it up with Lance Stephenson on the Hang Time Road Trip bus

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Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.

 

Hang Time Road Trip: The Barbershop

By Sekou Smith

CHICAGO– You can travel across this great nation from ocean to ocean and everywhere in between and there always seems to be one place in every city and town where the truth is in surplus.

Pick a barbershop, any barbershop, and the expertise overflows from all corners of the building.

In Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, the Hyde Park Hair Salon — yes, the same place President Barack Obama frequents when he’s back home in the Windy City — is where you go to get schooled on all things Chicago. And that mean Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and Cubs, but especially Derrick Rose and the Bulls.

All I needed was a fresh cut for the Hang Time Road Trip, my cohorts Rick Fox and Lang Whitaker insisted I get it straightened out before we go any further.

We got a whole lot more from Jaffar and the crew at the Hyde Park Hair Salon:


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew hits the barbershop in Hyde Park (President Obama’s shop)

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Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.

 

Hang Time Road Trip: The Bird breakdown!


VIDEO: Team president Larry Bird steps on the bus and gives us a glimpse of what’s next for the Pacers.

By Sekou Smith

DAYTON, Ohio – The road has been good to us, thus far.

Chilly temps didn’t slow us down in Cleveland or Chicago. And the rain didn’t get in our way in Indianapolis. The sun broke through by the time we madeit from Indy across the Ohio state line to Dayton, where we set up shop on the bus to wrap up Day 3 of the Hang Time Road Trip and reflect on our visit with Pacers boss Larry Bird.

Larry Legend broke down the situation for us and we in turn spent a little time breaking down what we learned from him and our poking around Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday afternoon.

We collected a few more trinkets for the next phase of our journey (it’s on to Philadelphia and then New York) with plenty of hoops and fun mixed together as we continue to Hang Time Road Trip. Check out the latest (video) installment of the podcast here:


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew reflects on the Cavaliers’ preseason opener

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Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

 

Boston’s Ryan shares stories from press-row seat in ‘Scribe’ memoir


VIDEO: Bob Ryan recaps the surprising end to the 2013-14 season

Bob Ryan covered 11 Olympics in his sportswriting career, as well as dozens of World Series, Super Bowls, Stanley Cup finals and NCAA championships across multiple sports. He spent 44 years, give or take, chasing and breaking stories big and small for the Boston Globe, worked in local TV in that sports-crazed market and still entertains, informs and cracks wise on a global stage as a frequent ESPN contributor.

But he set a standard for NBA coverage during his years on the Boston Celtics beat and, later, as a Globe columnist that arguably never has been surpassed. And while Ryan’s new memoir, “SCRIBE: My Life in Sports” (Bloomsbury USA), set for release Tuesday, cuts across all the sports he has covered in his career, it returns again and again to pro basketball. And the Celtics. And the NBA.

“The NBA was the centerpiece for me,” Ryan said in a recent phone chat. “It launched my so-called career and it gave me the chance to make a name for myself. I grew up playing basketball – it was the one sport I could play through prep school.

“If I’d been presented with the opportunity in 1969 to cover the Red Sox, I’d have been a very happy baseball writer. … But I’m very proud of my basketball-writing career and, frankly, I think I wrote game stories as well as anybody wrote ‘em.”

Game stories, for fans who might not be familiar with them, were newspaper accounts of what actually transpired in the previous night’s game. Now it is assumed that everyone already knows that from TV and the Internet, so writers working a game wind up spinning forward a little mini-feature or quickie analysis instead.

Newspapers? OK, for fans who might not be familiar with them

“I’m so glad I did it when I did it,” said Ryan, who retired from the Globe in 2012 and spent eight months of 2013 working on “SCRIBE.” “I’m grateful. There’s no way it’s as enjoyable now. Because of the relationships and the access.”

Ryan, 68, did some MLB coverage, columnist duty and TV work in his early-to-mid career but returned time and again to the Celtics beat in Boston in the 1970s and ’80s. Back then, he could chat up players in the locker room before practice, then sit in the gym to watch the entire workout. Teams flew on commercial flights same as the writers back then, so a delay or cancellation would keep them elbow to elbow in coffee shops or airport lounges. And the players’ six-figure salaries didn’t dredge the moat between them that exists in an eight-figure sports salary world.

“The two biggest things to ruin life for the beat writers were charter flights and the Chicago Bulls,” Ryan said. “The charter flights are self-evident – you no longer traveled with them. The Bulls, because they became the rock-star team that traveled with security and then they built the Berto Center [practice facility] where you could no longer even figure out where their cars were. And because they were successful, naturally, everybody wanted to follow suit. That changed everything and it’s never going back.”

Ryan’s memoir is more thematic than chronological, though the early chapters track his youth and steps toward scribe-dom in straightforward fashion (“Trenton Born,” “Boston College,” “Becoming a Reporter”). He devotes chapters, too, to baseball, football (“I Can Hardly Believe It’s Legal”), hockey, golf, ESPN, the Olympics and major college sports (“Smitten By a Lady of Low Repute”). He saves room near the end to write about music, another of his great passions alongside hoops and his wife Elaine.

Dave Cowens (left) battled with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (right) and other powerhouses in his era.

Dave Cowens (left) battled with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (right) and other powerhouses in his era.

But Ryan’s embrace of the NBA permeates the project. He gives Red Auerbach, the Dream Team, Chuck Daly, Bob Knight and the 2008 Celtics title season their own chapters. And there is no mistaking the topics addressed in those entitled “This Guy Ain’t No Hick” and “Michael v. LeBron.”

Former Celtics center Dave Cowens, however, gets both a chapter of his own and the prologue. Ryan starts the book with the tale of Cowens’ unexpected decision to retire at age 31 in October 1980. Cowens wanted Ryan’s help editing his retirement statement and he wanted it to run in the Globe:

The truth is it was very nicely and powerfully written, which did not surprise me because this was not the first time I had recognized his writing ability. …

“I’ll need some time,” I told him. “Maybe an hour.”

He was heading out the door when he turned around. “Do you mind if I call Red first?” he inquired.

Excuse me? Do I, Bob Ryan, mind if he, Dave Cowens, calls the hallowed Red Auerbach, Mr. Celtics, on my phone to inform him he is retiring from active duty in the National Basketball Association, effective immediately?

I gave him my blessing.

“He’s the most interesting person I’ve covered by far,” Ryan said of Cowens on the phone. “I love Larry [Bird], Larry and I are friends, and watching Larry play was a joy. But watching Dave play was an other-worldly experience and watching him compete against [Kareem] Abdul-Jabbar and [Bob] Lanier and [Willis] Reed and everyone else, spotting those guys size and running them into the ground and being their equal and very often their superior was a fan-inviting experience.

“But knowing him was the payoff. For his world view on basketball and on other things… He’s one of those guys who is a standard of something that people try to compare others to and find the next one, and in vain they have not found the next Dave Cowens.”

Ryan considers the Celtics’ John Havlicek to be the most underappreciated player he covered. “When he first retired, there was no issue, he was a demigod,” the writer said. “But Jordan comes and now LeBron, other guys come, and when the dust settles 36 years later, he’s still the greatest forward-guard, two-position player there ever was – and don’t give me Scottie Pippen.”

Given Ryan’s press-row seat before, during and after the dual arrival of Bird and Magic Johnson in 1979, he can attest that the NBA was in trouble for several years prior to that. “A down period artistically and every way,” he said.

“The great fallacy is that Bird and Magic instantly saved the league,” Ryan added. “They stopped the slide. They focused attention on the game, the passing was great and they revived Kareem, which was good. It’s interesting to think how [Abdul-Jabbar] would have been regarded if Magic had gone to another team and he stayed in that [bored] attitude that he had in the late ’70s. I think he would have quit probably two or three years into the ['80s] and gone on to do something else.”

Here is Ryan at one point on Bird:

For me, his arrival was as if I were an art student and into the classroom walked the new professor – Michelangelo. Who could be prepared for that? … I had been covering the NBA for 10 years. … I didn’t expect to be surprised and educated and thrilled by anything new.

And Ryan on officiating:

I came to realize that in any given game the referees had an influence that made them the equivalent of a good player, if not necessarily a great one. Referees decide who will stay on the court and how the game will be played. They cannot be ignored. I didn’t reference the officiating every night, and not all references were negative. But I was always on the lookout for exceptionally smooth, well-officiated games.

Then there’s the serendipity of his own career, which began at age 11 with his self-published column “The Sportster” growing up at home in Trenton, N.J.:

I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time on many occasions. I received a Globe internship interview when my roommate turned it down. I was handed the Celtics beat at age 23 because there was no one else in the department with either the interest or the basketball feel to take the job. They got very good after one year and I rode the wave. I lucked into doing a TV show because the guy who bought it was an old friend.

Had someone else taken over the show, he would have hired his friends. Some great things have happened to me over which I had zero control.

Michael who? Ryan says he prefers to watch LeBron more.

Michael who? Ryan says he prefers to watch LeBron James play more.

As for Ryan’s take on the growing debate of Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James, you can read the book in search of his answer. Over the phone, Ryan just said: “Do I think that Michael is clearly a ruthless competitor and his six championships will stand the test of time in the non-Bill Russell category? Yes. But I’d rather watch LeBron play. I just love the full scope of his game.”

Ryan’s memoir gives you the full scope of his game, from filing stories by wire with a young Chris Wallace (future news anchor) at a Western Union office in Harrisburg, Pa., to his appearances on “Around The Horn,” from his very modern squabbles with the analytics crowd over their beloved WAR theories to the irritated phone call he received one day from Amelia Earhart‘s sister.

Said Ryan, “I was thinking 37 years was the statute of limitations.”

No George, no Stephenson, but Vogel downright upbeat about Pacers


VIDEO: Pacers’ top 10 plays from the 2013-14 season

You see Frank Vogel for the first time since things turned really ugly for his Indiana Pacers team, your initial thought is to commiserate.

Then you hear Vogel talk about the Pacers and what awaits them in this 2014-15 NBA season, and your next thought is to apply a cold compress.

Vogel bounced through the early going at the annual coaches meetings in Chicago with a mile-wide smile and an optimism that had you wondering if, somehow, he had missed July and August. That’s when, in a span of two weeks, Indiana suffered a 1-2 gut punch in the form of Lance Stephenson‘s surprising decision to leave as a free agent and Paul George‘s gruesome, season-crippling injury at Team USA’s scrimmage in Las Vegas.

Yet to look at and listen to Vogel last week, you’d have thought Larry Bird had dialed a time machine back three decades with the idea of reassigning himself from team president to starting small forward.

“We’re going to be fine,” Vogel said. “We’ve got more than enough to compete with the best and we’re going to have another great season. Our approach is, we’re going to try to not skip a beat.”

Vogel’s fingers were not crossed. There was no whiff of rum in the room, and he wasn’t talking in Comic Sans.

He continued: “Two guys being gone – Lance being gone, Paul not being with us because of injury – creates opportunities for other guys. Both at that position and also at other positions to carry a bigger role.”

Ah, OK, so maybe it was the whole interview thing. So you switched off the recorder, looked the Pacers coach in the eye and said, now Frank, how do you really feel?

“I really feel that way,” Vogel said. “I think we’re going to be OK.”

It was time to find a chair for Vogel. Or maybe several so he could lie down. Indiana, despite its 56-26 record last season and berth as the No. 1 playoff seed in the East, ranked 29th in offensive efficiency, according to NBA.com stats. The Pacers were 28th in field-goal attempts, 27th in assists, 24th in points per game and 23rd in offensive rebounding.

George and Stephenson, the team’s dynamic two-way wings, generated an outsized portion of that attack. They combined for 45.5 points and 28.2 shots per game, which was 47 percent of Indiana’s scoring and 35 percent of its field-goal attempts.

George would have been a starter for Team USA in its gold medal-winning effort in the FIBA World Cup tournament. Stephenson would have been a worthy NBA All-Star reserve in February and was expected to remedy that miss this season. Together, the two Pacers were the likeliest sources for some Indiana improvement offensively, while pestering opponents like Dobermans defensively.

Into the breach step retreads Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles.

“Those guys are solid NBA veterans,” Vogel said. “It’s not like we’re going to fill the spots with guys who were in the D League last year. And we feel [2013 first-rounder] Solomon Hill is going to be an elite defensive player and a guy who can knock down open shots. We could have played him 25 minutes a game last year and we would have been all right. We just had such depth.

Chris Copeland is going to get a chance to play more. Damjan Rudez, one of the best shooters in Europe, is coming over to play at the ‘three’ or the ‘four.’ So we’ve got answers. You look at that, combined with our point guard rotation’s intact with George Hill and C.J. Watson, our big rotation’s intact with [Luis] Scola, [Roy] Hibbert and [Ian] Mahinmi. There are reasons to be optimistic.”

Hibbert, for instance, has shed 14 pounds in a plan to be more mobile and not so easily shaken when a team with “stretch fives” like Atlanta vacates the middle. Hibbert also spent a week immersed in court time, meals and movies with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, adding the NBA’s all-time leading scorer to his list of illustrious tutors (Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan). Hopefully the Pacers center and The Captain screened film other than “Airplane!” and “Game of Death.”

It’s understandable that Vogel might want to stay upbeat, because the alternative wouldn’t do him or his team any good. His biggest concern is defensively, where Indiana has excelled in recent seasons. Hibbert still is the anchor at 7-foot-3 but in George it lost a Scottie Pippen-like shadow for the other guys’ most dangerous point guards and wings. Covering for that with double-teams and help might stress the seams of the Pacers’ schemes overall.

Stephenson did more defensively, too, than just blow in guys’ ears. It seems reasonable to think that, had George’s ghastly leg fractures happened before Stephenson signed with Charlotte, the Pacers might have kept him for a deal better than the three-year, $27 million one he accepted. Or that, given the dire need and urgency, Indiana might have upped its initial offer from five years, $44 million.

Still, if Vogel wasn’t about to bemoan the roster hits with which he’ll have to live all season, he wasn’t going to if-only himself into a blue mood over unfortunate timing.

There is, at least, some encouraging news on George.

“He’s on one crutch now – almost full weight-bearing,” Vogel reported. “He’s got a boot. He still has to have the one crutch. He’s doing really well.

“It’s a challenge for him. But he’s not coming in with a frown on his face, sulking around. He’s doing a lot – lifting weights, doing a lot of core work. He works out five times a week.”

The brink of a new season, on the heels of the FIBA gold medal in the first year of his five-season, $91.6 million extension, makes this one of those tough emotional times for George. He’s stuck on the side as the Pacers prepare to tackle 2014-15 without him. Presumably without him anyway, with George a long shot to return any sooner than next fall.

“I was concerned about it when it first happened, where he was going to be [mentally],” Vogel said. “It’s going to be a long process, once he starts getting out running and learning to trust [the leg] again. But he seems to be of the mindset that his expectations are for a full recovery, and a full recovery as soon as possible.”

George has high expectations. His team now has lower ones. That might explain some of Vogel’s buoyancy: Indiana thrived on its way up, feeling underrated and overlooked in its pursuit of the Miami Heat, and only ran into trouble last season when it got far in front of the field with its 33-7 start.

Dialing down the projections and slipping back into the underdog role it knew so well might be a comfortable fit. Already the Pacers have proven wrong skeptics who suggested they take it down to the studs in a full-blown rebuild. Never was broached, Vogel said.

“Nope. There was some talk about ‘Can you believe people are saying that? Do they understand how long it takes to build a winning culture?’ ” he said.

“We have enough to be really good. Are we the preseason favorites to win the East? No, we’re not anymore. Some fans think the season’s over already. But some fans are like me, like, ‘Hey, they’ll still be pretty good.’ “

The Pacers will find out soon enough, with neither Vogel’s cheeriness nor Kool-Aid at the concessions stands covering up the results on the Fieldhouse court.