In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a huge surprise. The second half of this past season was full of reports that Larry Bird was not returning to head the franchise he helped rebuild from the brink of disaster. Still, Bird continued to deny such reports and just a few weeks ago sat down with the media and sounded like he was preparing to come back.
But he isn’t.
Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star has a source who says Bird is “100 percent sure” that he is not returning as team president.
This leaves a tw0-man team of Donnie Walsh, the 1990s Pacers’ patriarch who is among the most respected executives in NBA history, and Kevin Pritchard, who Bird seemingly went out of his way to ensure would be the future GM of this franchise.
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.
These are all the details we have as of now. More to come, obviously.
Regardless, the franchise is at a very good place right now. Many Pacers fans will be upset that Bird won’t be here to shepherd the franchise through a pivotal offseason. Roy Hibbert, who Bird traded former All-NBA power forward Jermaine O’Neal for, and George Hill, who Bird traded last year’s first-round pick on draft day last year, are both restricted free agents. But the restricted aspect means that those guys will be forced to return, for at least one season, no matter who is at the helm if the front office so chooses. (The Pacers have the right to match any contract either sign with another team.)
Without the presence of Bird, who has shown a steady patience throughout the past few seasons and been averse to drastic, risky transactions, it seems more likely that something rash may happen. But given the talent and salary cap flexibility of this roster, any competent executive should be in the position to maintain the positive momentum and growth that this team has shown over the past two seasons.
And by all accounts, Walsh — even at 71 years old — and Pritchard are beyond competent.
Bird deciding to walk away ends the year-to-year speculation about his future. No more year-to-year handshakes with owner Herb Simon.
Bird will meet with Simon as early as Tuesday to finalize his departure.
Bird’s decision to walk away comes about a month after he talked like a person ready to continue as president of the team.
The word “retired” is not being used with Bird. He may take a year off so that he can tend to some back and shoulder problems, then decide if he wants return to a front office, according to a source.
Bob Kravitz, also of the Star, also noted that health issues are likely at the center of Bird’s decision.
So why’s he walking?
Over the past year, we had a few conversations about what he might do. One day, he would sound like he was staying. Another day, he would sound like a goner. But the one thing he would always bring up was the pain he was feeling in his eternally balky back, the fact it was so difficult to sit for hours on end and watch tape or sit in a gym and watch prospects.
Unless there’s a backstory with which we’re completely unfamiliar, this sounds like a health, or quality-of-life issue, at its core.