Larry Bird: Learning From the Best

(Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports) /
(Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports) /

A key aspect that the best general managers in the league all share, is that they all keep in mind the team’s future while building their roster.

Anybody in a half-decent location with some money to toss around and future draft picks to trade can build a “win-now” team, but it takes a totally different kind of person to build a contender, that will stay afloat for the next few years if it all falls apart.

Larry Bird has done this with the Pacers, building a team to rival Miami as the best in the East, all the while remaining under the luxury tax and only giving up one future draft pick (which is protected from selections 1-14 anyway).

Larry was fortunate enough to spend his career playing under a general manager who is perhaps the greatest coach/GM the league has ever seen. The man who was the brains behind the building of the Celtics trio that won three titles in the ‘80s, the man who saw a loophole and drafted Bird at #6 a year before he finished college, the man who traded down with a number one pick to get Kevin McHale and Robert Parish on the same day: Red Auerbach.

Shaun Powell from ‘Sports on Earth’ recently interviewed Larry. Throughout this interview, Larry discussed how Red’s influence played a major part in his ability to be a successful GM in the league today, helping him understand that as a GM, you have to take chances – that even the worst decisions were the right ones, because you thought they were at the time. Bird explains that he took this attitude on board.

"“When I do something and it doesn’t work, at least you thought it was going to work at the time you made the decision.”"

There probably aren’t too many decisions that the aforementioned quote applies to, considering how successful Bird has been so far. The Evan Turner trade may be an exception to this – at this point, at least.

It’s fair to say Turner has been a disappointment for the Pacers, while Granger has fit right in with his new team, the Clippers (although Danny’s inability to be on the court now probably strengthens Bird’s decision to cut bait). It’s easy to imagine that losing Granger may have been detrimental to the team’s chemistry, for he’d been a Pacer as long as anybody on the list, but we have hindsight on our side now, and I’m sure that most Pacers fans would’ve agreed at the time that pulling the trigger on that trade was the right call. I sure did.

Larry, however, says that agreeing to that trade was one of the hardest things he’s had to do in his time as GM.

"“Trading Danny was the toughest thing I ever had to do. He’s the last guy I thought I’d trade,” Bird said."

He talks about how understanding that an individual is more important than a franchise is crucial, saying “I remembered what Red taught me. The franchise is always first.”

To back this up, Bird refers to a moment in his career, when Red came to him and told him he was trading Rick Robey, one of Larry’s closest friends on the team. Bird was upset about this, and initially told Red “you can’t do that.” He then asked who Red was trading him for.

Red said he was trading him for Dennis Johnson. After hearing that, Larry changed his tone.

"“Dennis Johnson? Oh, yeah. You gotta make that deal.”"

He explains that when he heard who they were getting back, his whole outlook flipped. Naturally, his attitude with the offer for Granger would have likely been similar. Granger had been the franchise cornerstone for years, but with Turner on the table, Larry knew that the franchise had to come first.

Turning the Pacers into what they are now has taken years, and the patience Bird showed was totally necessary. He traded, signed, and even drafted with a lack of high lottery picks, to create a team that took the reigning champions to seven games last May. Perhaps he thought the trade for Turner was the finishing piece on top of all this.

Clearly, what with the recent slide, it’s looking like it hasn’t had this effect, but who knows how important Turner will be come playoff time. Maybe he’ll be just the firepower Indiana needs to push past the Heat, should they get to the conference finals. Maybe he won’t.

At least he thought it was going to work at the time he made the decision.