ORLANDO, Fla. — If there’s anybody who knows what it’s like to go from a Hall of Fame playing career to having success as a head coach, it’s the guy who was sitting across the gym when Jason Kidd made his debut in the Orlando Pro Summer League with the Nets.
“The transition was pretty easy,” said Larry Bird, who has returned as president of the Pacers after a year away. “You go in there, have a game plan, talk about it and you let them guys help you. You can’t walk in there and think you know it all, because you don’t. I was just fortunate to have two great guys and that made the transition very easy for me.”
When Bird became coach of the Pacers in 1997, he had the veteran Dick Harter and the up and coming Rick Carlisle as his top assistants. Kidd now has Lawrence Frank and Roy Rogers as his right hand men.
“I’m not gonna tell (Kidd) what to do,” Bird said. “He’s got to have his own style. I was fortunate to have very experienced coaches. Rick hadn’t been there yet, but Dick was a head coach.
“He’ll have guys that look up to him and they’ll want some direction and he’s gonna give it to them. I think it’s a great opportunity for him. He’s always been a coach on the floor, but sitting in that one seat is different.
“It’s not as easy as it looks to tell you the truth. I had even more respect for the coaches I had over the years. It’s a tough gig. It’s a lot of hours. It’s tough. It’s grinding. It was easier when you had the ball in your hands and he’ll find that out.
“You see things develop as a coach out there and you say: ‘How did he miss that guy wide open?’ Or you always tell your guys: ‘Push, keep pushing, set a better pick.’ You do it as a coach, but it don’t get through like it does from a teammate, like Magic or myself. But I think he’ll do fine.”
Bird said it was physical ailments that got him to step away from the job for a year, but is rejuvenated and ready to close the gap between the Pacers and Miami. After pushing the Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, the expectations for Indiana will be their highest since the team he coached reached the 2001 NBA Finals.
“We like that,” Bird said. “That’s what we play for. We want high expectations. We want to do well and to be at a level where we compete every night.
“We know Chicago’s gonna be better with (Derrick) Rose. Obviously, Brooklyn should be a lot better. Brooklyn beat us every time last year and now they’ve gotten stronger. We’ve got to get better ourselves. We’ve got to get a better bench.
“The Heat’s the Heat. There’s only one winner the last two years, so everyone else is trying to catch them. There’s been a lot of changes throughout the league. Teams are trying to load up.
“Our team did get better. We’re a young team. Lance (Stephenson) got better. Paul George got better. Hopefully we’ll get better enough.”