ORLANDO — The Pacers-Magic series has regressed into a backdrop role for the larger issue at hand, which involves Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard and the off-season hurricane approaching for the Magic.
But although they’re headed in the direction of the second round and maybe beyond, the Pacers could experience their own upheaval, though at a slightly different degree of alarm. And while much of it is concentrated outside of the locker room, it could affect the product in the near future.
Starting with the obvious: Larry Bird.
He has repeatedly refused to address his status as team president beyond this season, nor does he discuss it much with his staff, according to one person in the organization. Everyone is in the dark on this one, leaving the Pacers to take their best guess. One person last week put it at 60-40, Bird goes.
It could very well be that Bird doesn’t know himself. At this point, he’s a year-to-year guy, someone who loves the challenge of building a team but isn’t married to the job. Bird does feel a great amount of gratitude toward Herb Simon, the Pacers owner who stuck with Bird through the tough times, meaning the aftermath of the Malice at the Palace in 2004.
It took years for the Pacers to dig themselves out of that one, and Bird took some public criticism. And yet Simon allowed Bird to make the necessary changes to rebuild the team without providing interference or pressure. Bird said in the past that he owed it to the organization to flush out the bad contracts and bring in quality pieces before he turned the running of the front office over to someone else. Well, with a very manageable salary cap and a nice blend of veterans and youth, the turnaround seems complete, or at least on its way. Bird is a strong contender for Executive of the Year honors after adding David West, Leandro Barbosa and George Hill this season. Don’t forget, too, that he added Paul George, Tyler Hansbrough and Darren Collison, among others, in seasons past.
The other potential change also involves the front office. Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star reported that David Morway, Bird’s right-hand man, was being considered for the Blazers’ GM job. Earlier this season Bird brought in Kevin Pritchard, who was unceremoniously fired from that very job in Portland, to help in the front office. It’s possible Pritchard, and not Morway, is the Pacers’ president-in-waiting.
Finally, there’s the very strong chance Brian Shaw, the associate head coach, will get a look from some NBA team this summer. Shaw lost out to Mike Brown and Mark Jackson for gigs with the Lakers and Warriors, respectively, last summer. Bird, once teammates with Shaw in Boston, hired him to sit next to coach Frank Vogel. Pacers players have raved about Shaw’s input. There’s an opening in Charlotte and could be vacancies in Washington, Orlando and Portland. Or Shaw could just return and wait for a more ideal situation.
So, let’s recap: Orlando could say farewell to its GM and coach. The Pacers may lose their president, GM (Morway) and top assistant coach. Once again, the Pacers, up 3-1 in the series, would one-up Orlando.
Unless the Magic also wave goodbye to their franchise player. That would trump everything else.