BOSTON icon Larry Bird stopped short of comparing Indiana to his great Celtics teams, but he still considers the franchise he now heads good enough to contend for an NBA crown.
The current president for basketball operations of the Pacers, Bird has high expectations of a team which he believes is a shoo-in to make it back to the playoffs this season.
“I believe that we are built for the playoffs and when the playoffs come, they’ll be ready for the challenge and face it,” said Bird ahead of the Pacers' preseason game against the Houston Rockets at the Mall of Asia Arena.
But he won’t go to the point of comparing this year’s Pacers to the mighty Celtics of the eighties, although he sees them contending for a championship a year after bowing to eventual champion Miami Heat in seven tough games during the Eastern Conference Finals.
“I don’t compare this team to the Celtics because it’s a completely different style of play. But I believe its deep enough to compete for a championship. That’s always our goal: to get into the Finals and try to win the whole thing,” said Bird.
“I hope that in a short period of time, we can challenge for the championship,” he added.
But the Hall of Famer made it clear it will still be a tough road for the Pacers to tab a first-ever NBA championship this season with the Heat still as strong as ever.
“It’s a challenge, no doubt about it. The team needs to get lucky, stay healthy, and play together,” said Bird.
While acknowledging the Eastern Conference has become stronger following key player movements in the offseason, Bird said the Pacers will continue to be anchored on team play led by the emerging Paul George and the returning Danny Granger.
“I know how hard it is to win this championship but we have a group of guys that play together,” said Bird.
He however, said Indiana’s bench should continue to improve this season.
“The bench has to get better. We got a good starting five. The bench has to play better like last year.
“I think we just also have to be lucky. We have a long season ahead of us.”