Pacers Boss Bird At The Crossroads

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Eight years are a mere blip in time, but it seems like an eternity in the NBA.

It’s certainly rare for executives and coaches to last that long.

So when you read that Larry Bird is eight years deep into his tenure as the boss of the Indiana Pacers, it seems a bit strange. I was there for the start, standing in the crowd at Bird’s introductory news conference and wondering, like most in that surprised sea of faces staring at him, how long the man known as “Larry Legend” would last as an executive.

Now, eight trying years later for Bird and the Pacers, Bird appears to be at the crossroads. The Pacers finally recovered fully from the infamous brawl at the Palace, making their first playoff appearance since 2006 earlier this year and pushing the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in all five games of their first round series.

In a thorough and wide-ranging piece on Bird, Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe touched on not only Bird’s lingering connections to the Celtics but also his tumultuous journey running the Pacers and how much longer he plans on doing so:

He’s been the Pacers’ top executive for eight seasons, but said that after next season he’s considering stepping away. He took the Pacers to the Finals as coach in 2000. But he’s spent the last six seasons trying to rebuild a franchise stained by the brawl with the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

With Indiana coming off its first playoff appearance since 2006, the franchise is at a turning point. Bird and Pacers owner Herb Simon agreed that Bird would continue to guide the franchise on a year-to-year basis.

“It’s a handshake deal,’’ said Bird, who will be honored tomorrow at TD Garden as part of the Sports Museum’s The Tradition. “I don’t want a [long-term] contract.’’
But they both know a year isn’t a very long time.

“It’s at a point now in my life where I think it might be time to really reconsider and see how long I want to do this,’’ said Bird, now 54. “They asked me to stay another year through the lockout season, the owner did, for a favor. I was leaving, but he asked me to stay, and I will and I’ll get the job done.

“I just think the franchise is in a good position right now, and I want to leave it in a good position for the next guy to do some good things. Sometimes you just look at it and say, ‘Hey, I’ve done enough. I’ve got it in the position I want to get it in,’ and you move on. I’ve got another year here and I’m going to try to do the best I can to get this team back to winning.’’

Leaving now, just when things are starting to look up, probably doesn’t make sense to some. If you’ve seen it through to this point, grinding it out through all the drama of the past eight seasons, why bounce when everything seems to be in place for sustained success?

The coaching staff, Frank Vogel with Brian Shaw flanking him, is set. There’s a young talented roster in place, headlined by Danny Granger, Darren Collison, Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and HT favorite son Josh “McBob” McRoberts.

Bird and Pacers’ general manager David Morway nailed it on draft night, adding point guard and Indianapolis native George Hill in a deal with the Spurs, a move that tugged at the Hoosier hearts of  the Pacers’ faithful. For years since The Brawl the Pacers have had to battle to get some of the home folks back on their side.

As my former colleague Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star points out, these past three months just have marked the turning point for the Bird and the Pacers:

In a more cynical world, it could be said that Hill’s public introduction was a bit over-the-top for a 30-minute-per-game player. It’s not like Dwight Howard or Eric Gordon just walked through the door.

And yet . . . why not? Why not celebrate what’s right now about the Indiana Pacers? Hill represents what the Pacers are becoming, a civically responsible organization that will no longer embarrass the city on the floor or off.

Hill is not a star, not even close, and yet, he’s the embodiment of a franchise that has finally shed the yoke of “The Brawl” and all the other nonsense that had Pacers beat writers on 24-hour police-beat alert.

“I grew up a Pacers fan,” said Hill, who grew up on the city’s Northside and graduated from Broad Ripple High School. “I was heartbroken when things went bad for them. I hated seeing what happened here. But give the organization credit: They moved out a lot of those guys and they’ve rebuilt. And I’m glad to be a part of that.”

Surely, some people are wondering why Bird wouldn’t want to continue to “be a part of that.”

But I can see where Bird is coming from. He brought the Pacers back from the abyss. That could take the starch out of anyone, but especially someone who walked into the organization with an eye toward finishing what he started as a coach. The Pacers were on a championship track when The Brawl happened and the bottom fell out.

Getting back to this point is a victory in itself.

Bird could be greedy and keep grinding and see how much more ground the Pacers can cover with him at the helm. The only problem with that theory is Bird has no desire to prove himself to anyone, nor should he. Whatever criticism, warranted or not, levied at Bird and former Pacers boss Donnie Walsh for the way they handled things after The Brawl is history now.

Bird can exit the stage whenever he wants knowing that he helped resuscitate the franchise.


  1. JoJo says:

    Overall, he made mistakes, but I think he did great. It’s hard to understand why he kept O’Brien so long, particularly when he wasn’t developing players and had no rapport with them. In fact, I think Hibbert was a sinking ship until the coaching change. I also don’t understand why Bird would leave at this point, and his rationalization for coming back (a favor to Simon) seems weak. He doesn’t sound very enthusiastic at all.

  2. n odowd says:

    i still got to respect the fact that what we have done is battle mediocracy now for those 6 years, never bad enough to get a top 5 pick to build around a potential superstar, but never good enough to make the playoffs and when did, get booted out of the first round of the playoffs. a franchise gets trapped in no man’s land, and unless you are in a bigger market like indiana isn’t then it makes everything that much harder to atract free agents. so for the pacers to stick it out and attempt to rebuild with those circumstances is pretty good, every franchise has made bad draft picks in the past, the only true mistake that we made, was with the warriors and bringing in those large contracts and sending off al harrington, after we exausted all our resources and time in the offseason to reacquire him.

  3. GeorgeMonroe says:

    I for one will be glad when his tenure is over, his decisions one after another were disasterous and kept us from advancing at a good clip and had to have cost a fortune; IF the owner finally woke up and hired an experinced consultant to help guide Bird into some common sense moves, then, thank goodness; it saved face, so be it! Hopefully now well finally be able to add good footage to a proud Pacers legacy

  4. R Jackson says:

    Well I for one think Larry Bird has done alot for this team. At the same time however I remember reading that article a while ago on the mistakes Bird has made since being there. In my opinion he has done a great job, but thats me.

    • Beber says:

      I agree with you altough I expected a little bit more of the Pacers last season : Hibbert was quiet a disapointment (I sincerely expected more of him). Same thing concerning Collison… Both players are young and just need to improve their game. Also a young team which needs a veteran presence (Posey, who else ?), rebounds an agressivity in defense
      If Collison could have 15pp and 6-7 dimes a game + Hibbert like 15pp and 10boards + 2 bs, I’m sure the Pacers could have a nice season in 2012… With Granger an their bench I’m almost sure yes ! And Bird should be the head coach again ! ;0p
      Another thing : those who think Bird sucks as a boss should have a look at His Airness and the Bobcats : no more Gerald Wallace, Felton, Chandler and Jackson in less than 2 seasons… and they are not their new pick will be able to play next year (buyout of the contract = 1.4 $ and Charlotte can only pay 0.5…) Good job Michaël !