Updated: Friday, 29 Jun 2012, 4:13 PM EDT
Published : Friday, 29 Jun 2012, 4:13 PM EDT
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INDIANAPOLIS - Larry Bird has never cared what people thought of his decisions.
It should be no surprise that he went against the grain once more. In his final draft as president of the Indiana Pacers, Bird selected Duke power forward Miles Plumlee with the 26th pick in Thursday's NBA draft, adding another tough player to their rugged, young roster.
Fans condemned the selection on Twitter, and Bird figures the experts will give the team low draft grades.
"It's not a sexy pick by any means, but people who watch us play and see how he fits in, they'll finally get it," Bird said.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel had a comeback for the critics.
"Trust Larry Bird's track record," he said.
Plumlee, a 6-foot-10 native of Warsaw, Ind., is known for his athletic ability and rebounding prowess, but is considered a raw offensive player. He averaged 6.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game as a senior. He shot 61 percent from the field but played only 20.5 minutes per game and started just 16 of 34 contests his final year.
"I think it's a home run," Vogel said. "To get a guy like this at the 26th pick, clearly the best dirty work player in the draft. He falls right into our identity. We rebuilt this team around defense and rebounding, and this is this kid's specialty. Nobody plays harder. He's going to be all over the floor, diving for loose balls."
Plumlee, who won a national title with Duke in 2010, expects success with the Pacers.
"I'm used to winning," he said. "I won state titles at Christ School (North Carolina), I won games at Duke, and I'm excited to win games with the Pacers."
The Pacers also added Orlando Johnson, a guard from Cal-Santa Barbara, giving the Sacramento Kings cash in exchange for the 36th pick. Johnson averaged 19.7 points and shot 47 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3-point range last season.
It's been a whirlwind week for the Pacers.
General manager David Morway stepped down on Tuesday. The next day, Bird announced that would be leaving at the end of August due to health reasons. Donnie Walsh, the former team president, returned to that role, and Kevin Pritchard stepped in as general manager.
Bird said he may need shoulder surgery and cited longstanding issues with his back. He said he plans to take a year off before deciding if he should return to basketball.
He will leave the Pacers in good shape. Indiana beat Orlando easily in the first round of this year's playoffs before falling to eventual champion Miami in six games.
Bird has said the Pacers need a superstar, a big-time scorer the team can depend on every night, even with Danny Granger on the roster. While he likes his team of solid players, he covets a player who can attack the basket. He feels he got that player in Johnson.
Pritchard said Wednesday that the Pacers want to re-sign free agents Roy Hibbert and George Hill. That will likely take most of the team's salary-cap space.
If Bird's recent draft-night moves are an indicator, picking Plumlee will be successful, too.
In 2008, the Pacers acquired Toronto draft pick Hibbert, and the 7-foot-2 center was a first-time All-Star this past season. In 2009, Indiana drafted Tyler Hansbrough, who has become a key part of the second unit. In 2010, the team picked up Fresno State's Paul George on draft night. George participated in this year's rising stars challenge and slam dunk contest, and he got votes for the NBA all-defensive team.
In 2011, the team traded its draft pick for Hill, an Indianapolis native. He was the starting point guard by season's end.
Now they get Plumlee. Bird said the team needed a post player because Jeff Foster retired and Hibbert and Lou Amundson are free agents. Vogel said Plumlee is basically a clone of Foster.
"The first scouting meeting that I went into - you all know that we have newly retired Jeff Foster working in our scouting department on our front-office team, and the first draft meeting I stepped into, I jokingly said, `Do we have any Jeff Fosters in this draft?' and about four of our scouts simultaneously said Miles Plumlee," he said.
Vogel said he expects the fans to embrace Plumlee.
"I think it's going to be a very short time period before this guy becomes a big-time fan favorite around here," Vogel said.
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