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Pacers’ plan to stay the course

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POSTED June 3, 2014 11:44 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Larry Bird came up with Indiana’s championship blueprint.

He still believes it can work even after a second straight discouraging playoff exit in the Eastern Conference finals to Miami amid cries for change. The old-school Bird contends now is the time to stay the course.

“We’ve got a young team and we’d like to keep them together and let them develop together,” said Bird, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations.

Indianapolis fans have heard all this before.

A decade ago, across town, the Colts dealt with similar complaints after losing to New England in the playoffs following the 2003 and 2004 seasons and then blew home-field advantage with a divisional-round loss to Pittsburgh to open the 2005 playoffs. Colts President Bill Polian never flinched, keeping the core group together another year and the Colts eventually broke through with a second-half rally to beat the Pats in the AFC Championship following the 2006 season. Two weeks later, they won the Super Bowl.

Now it’s Bird’s chance to steal a page from the Colts’ playbook.

“It’s hard to get there (the NBA Finals), I know that,” he said. “I feel we had a great season for this reason: They set their goal to have the No. 1 seed and they did. They set their goal to play Miami again and they did. But we ran into a better basketball team. They went nine or 10 deep and we didn’t. And they’ve been there before and we haven’t.”

So how does a team unwilling to pay the luxury tax, with four starters already under contract and the fifth ready to cash in on free agency create enough maneuverability to beat the Heat?

Bird and coach Frank Vogel both talked Monday about considering trades, and Bird even suggested he might make a move to get back into the first round. He traded the Pacers’ top pick to Phoenix last summer for Luis Scola. But they expect most of the changes to come from the roster that already exists.

“I think with internal growth we can, but we’re going to look at all the external possibilities as well,” Vogel said. “We’re going to try and make sure we grow this team in the right direction. We’ve gone from the first round (in 2011) to the second round (in 2012) to the third round the last two years and now we’ve got to take that next step next year.”

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