Larry Bird Would Have Declined to Return as Pacers Top Exec if His Team Missed the Playoffs

Larry Bird’s contract to be the head of basketball operations for the Pacers ends this summer. All year, there has been much speculation as to whether or not he will return — presuming owner Herb Simon gives Bird the choice.

By and large, the general presumption has been that Larry will be back next year, if for nothing else, to finish the “Three-Year Plan” he has been touting over and over since what, in this era of hyper media coverage and speculation, seems like five lifetimes ago. You see, this is the summer the franchise has been patiently waiting for. This is the Summer when it might be possible to acquire the personnel necessary for the Pacers to once again become perennial playoff presence without ever completely bottoming out for a top five draft pick. This is the summer the team finally has the two things Bird has always wanted: (1) a young core of players who are good citizens that fans can easily root for and are, at worst, serviceable rotation guys in the NBA, and (2) a lot of financial flexibility. (Under the current cap, they would have roughly $30 million to play around with.)

On the other hand, Bird has sounded very ambiguous as to whether or not he even wants to return multiple times in the press this year. Generally, his sentiments have reiterated that he isn’t a kid anymore and that he has been living this NBA life for 30 years now. Because of this, he says there is a definite possibility that he will hang up his executive blazer for good to (and I’m paraphrasing here) enjoy the finer life of tee times, wearing knee high sweat socks while nodding in agreement with Andy Rooney and eating fiber.

If there’s one thing Larry has always been — both on and off the court — it’s a straight shooter, and Pacers fans know first-hand how quickly he walked away from coaching, so there is very little chance that his previous comments about indecision were mere posturing or him trying to be coy. He simply did not know.

According to Indy Star columnist Bob Kravitz, however, there is one thing Larry did know: if the Pacers team hadn’t achieved its goal of making the playoffs, Bird “likely would have walked away.”

“We don’t get a trophy, and I never thought I’d be happy as hell to get an eighth seed in the playoffs,” Bird said. “But I am, especially for these young players.”

Bird said Friday, if the Pacers had not made the playoffs, he likely would have walked away.

Now, having made the playoffs, that decision is a bit more difficult. The basketball man inside him would love to take advantage of the team’s favorable financial position he has helped forge through several difficult years. But there are family and personal issues in play.

“My wife’s been in this for 30 years now,” Bird said. “She’s never told me she wants me to quit what I’m doing, but twice this year after really tough losses, she’s asked me, ‘Larry, why are you doing this?’ She’s never asked me that before.”

This isn’t all that different from what we have heard before, but the fact that he would have “likely,” according to Kravitz, walked away if the team missed out on the postseason does suggest that he does feel a lot of personal responsibility for where this franchise is currently at. I mean, that should go without saying given his job description, but many, many men and women — and I’m talking high-level executives in all business sectors, not just sports — can too easily compartmentalize their roles in achieving results and deflect how their decisions affected outcomes, especially when there have been as many external setbacks as there have been for the Pacers in recent years.

Larry Bird could easily say that the economic downturn tied his hands a little. He could easily blame the Jamal Tinsley situation. He could question what happened to Danny Granger’s efficiency. He could talk about Tyler Hansbrough’s “lost year” due to vertigo-like symptoms. He could go way back and bemoan the breakdown of Jermaine O’Neal’s knees, Stephen Jackson’s decision-making ability and Ron Artest’s head.

Had the team finished 9th instead of 8th, he could look at all this, plus the things I’m leaving out, and think that it was not so much him who had failed but the other people involved. He could easily have said “My way was the right way and had it not been for ___, ___ and ___, we would be right where I thought we would.”

That’s what a lot of people would do. It seems, however, he was not having any excuses.

And he makes a large statement about his desire to see this whole thing through by effectively saying that “if my team that I put together under a three-year plan that included making the playoffs in year three did not indeed make the playoffs, I would publicly admit defeat and walk away so someone else could have the chance to right this ship better than I could.”

There is some honor to this mentality.

It’s not quite following bushido code and disemboweling yourself with your samurai sword, but it is admitting failure and metaphorically falling on your sword rather than trying to sugarcoat the situation and spin the story so as to keep your job — aka, the most common past-time of executives everywhere.

And if Bird feels that much responsibility about whether or not this team made the postseason in year three of his plan, it leads me to strongly believe that he will feel enough responsibility for their performance in years four and five that he will want to return.

… presuming his wife lets him, of course.

I mean, Andy Rooney isn’t going to watch himself. (Mostly because he still can’t figure out how to work that dagnabbit VCR timer button to record 60 Minutes. Why does that clock always blink anyway? Who decided blinking was the international sign for “I don’t know what time it was.” I remember back when if you asked someone who didn’t have a watch what time it was, they would just shrug their shoulders or point to the clock tower. Speaking of, what ever happened to clock towers?)

Topics: 60 Minutes, Andy Rooney, Larry Bird, Three-Year Plan

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  • http://Twitter.com/Pacers_Chants @Pacers_Chants

    Good stuff, Jared.

    Question is: Should Pacer fans want — want — Larry back?

    If the choice were between solo Larry, or solo Kevin Pritchard, I’d choose Pritchard.

    Larry’s done a pretty decent job in the time he’s had control without Walsh being above him.

    But for this next phase of the building process, the Pacers might want to move away from that Bird-Walsh-Morway brain trust that has been entrenched for eternity in the front office.

    Because of the minefield of poor choices that is 2011 free agency, the revised plan might be to save the cap space and try to package some of these young assets that we have.

    I’m not convinced Bird could be totally trusted to do either. He may not be willing to gamble on trading some of the youth. Some fresh blood could give our roster a new, more independent evaluation. The key is for the Pacers to avoid overpaying their own players and find a way to turn some of them into another star to go alongside Danny.

  • Aaron

    I agree totally with Pritchard over Bird (or almost anybody). Nobody’s gotten a worse rap for a more defensible position than Pritchard (Greg Oden).

    That doesn’t mean Bird couldn’t do the job; I think meeting with Larry Bird, like meeting with Michael Jordan, is a helluva lot more impressive than meeting with Kevin Pritchard. And they’ve worked hard to clear cap space.

  • GH

    On Pritchard. As a Portland fan, I was up in arms over his firing. I had full faith and confidence in him. I hope he finds a good place to land, and a franchise like the Pacers seems like a good fit.

    As more and more came out about the dismissal, it made sense to me. The breaking factor for KP wasn’t just Oden, it was the fact that he undermined the team’s negotiation of Roy’s max contract with absolutely no protection for his medical issues. He will gamble for performance on players with less than optimal health – but not for players with less than optimal personality.

    He is a tireless worker, to the point of annoyance of some execs. Just know that KP expects to get paid for his around the clock efforts, and he also performs best with deep pockets behind him that are able to maximize his assets. He is an incredible scout, but quickly falls in love with his picks, so he is a better drafter than a trader.

    Pritchard also likes to be the singular voice of the team. He’s a phenomenal leader, and can change the culture of your franchise overnight. He speaks with common sense strength and dedication to purpose that would uplift the most beleaguered fanbase – but if you have any other egos in the equation, it can quickly ruffle feathers once the identity of the team becomes his own.

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