HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Indiana Pacers’ continued return to prominence will go on without the man who served as the architect of the project.
Hall of Famer and reigning NBA Executive of the Year Larry Bird is leaving the organization, per Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star, a move that opens the door for Bird’s predecessor and former boss, Donnie Walsh, to return to Indianapolis as the franchise’s new boss.
Unspecified health issues are reportedly among the reasons Bird is “100 percent sure” he will not stay on president of the team after meeting with Pacers owner Herb Simon today:
Bird, who is dealing with some health issues, will likely take a year off before deciding if he wants to return to any sort of front-office position.
His departure comes just three days after The Star reported that Bird’s predecessor, former CEO Donnie Walsh, is expected to return to the franchise in some capacity. There’s a possibility Walsh will take Bird’s title of president.
Simon always has respected Walsh, who spent 24 years with the Pacers before leaving to become president of basketball operations with the New York Knicks in 2008.
Walsh, who took last year off, attended several of the Pacers’ pre-draft workouts at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Kevin Pritchard, the team’s current director of player personnel, will likely work with Walsh as the team’s new general manager. Bird pushed for Pritchard to become general manager, citing Pritchard’s basketball knowledge.
David Morway, who had been the Pacers’ general manager, is no longer employed by the franchise, according to a source.
Bird’s departure isn’t a stunner, only because there has been speculation that he would walk away at the end of each of his season’s at the helm. The more surprising news is that Walsh is set to return to his old position within the organization where he was beloved by all involved.
Simon remains a staunch Walsh supporter and there wasn’t an employee, player, coach or anyone else, that I’ve ever come across who didn’t heap anything other than glowing praise on Walsh. He spent 24 years with the Pacers, presiding over one of the league’s most consistent playoff programs during the bulk of his tenure.
Bird’s work to help rehabilitate the franchise in the wake of the Malice at the Palace in 2004 came full circle the past two seasons with the team he built making consecutive playoff appearances, including a tense Eastern Conference semifinal series (they actually led 2-1) against the eventual champion Miami Heat.
Bird leaves the Pacers in a prime position to contend for a top-tier perch in the Eastern Conference power structure, somewhere behind the Heat and their Central Division rival Chicago Bulls.