Bird Back, Focused on Winning
June 27, 2013
Larry Bird is back in the saddle with the Indiana Pacers. After exactly one year away, Bird was re-introduced at a news conference Thursday morning at Bankers Life Fieldhouse as the President of Basketball Operations.
Kevin Pritchard remains the general manager and Donnie Walsh slides into a consultant role. Bird stressed the importance of having one voice for the franchise, and it’ll be his, beginning July 1.
A few weeks ago, Pacers owner Herb Simon called and requested an answer soon. They met Wednesday morning and reached a multi-year agreement, one that Bird plans to complete. And no, the deal doesn’t include an ownership stake.
“I’m past that stage,” Bird said. “10 years ago it was something that I really thought about and I had a group at one time that was interested in buying. Herbie Simon is going to own this as long as he possibly can and that’s great for the city, and great for us.”
Bird, 56, used this past year to get healthy and re-charge. He had a good year, with time shared between Florida and Southern Indiana. But being around basketball is all he’s ever known.
“I had one of the better years that I’ve had in a long time, health wise.” He said. “I feel so much better mentally and physically.”
His interest in returning started to get real when other teams began to call him. Though he didn’t specifically talk with other teams and classified it as “exploring” his options, his heart – and his home – are in Indiana.
“I love Indianapolis,” he said. "We got a great team, I know the system, I know what we need here to fulfill our dreams and it’s really an easy choice.”
While away, he took notes while watching over 90 percent of the games and gained a new perspective of the team.
“I had a different experience this year being out of it,” he explained. “[I was] still rooting like heck for them but [I had] a different perspective watching them play, that way I can understand what we need and what we should do. There’s some work to be done, there’s no question about it.”
Bird confirmed that assistant Jim Boylen has moved on (to join San Antonio’s staff), meaning Vogel, who has already talked to several candidates, must replace both Boylen and Brian Shaw. Boylen’s decision came in the last week. He had attended pre-draft workouts and was scheduled to coach the summer league team.
Beyond the draft, replacing two assistant coaches and free agency, which Bird echoed the organization’s belief that David West is the No. 1 priority, the team’s one glaring need is the bench and Bird was brutally honest, as usual. He wants a bench that can stay even with opponents, at worst, and he visualizes having a bench that could both take over games but push the starters in practice.
“The moves will be to strengthen the bench,” Bird said. “If [Danny Granger] comes back, automatically our bench gets better. We just got to get the other players to either play better or bring in some guys that we think is going to help us.
“For us to talk about beating the great teams in this league, you’ve got to have a stronger bench. Our bench didn’t produce last year the way we needed them to produce. We definitely got to fix that one area.”
Bird was encouraged by what he saw over the last year and is re-energized to get back after it. He’s thrilled to see the Pacers competing again and among the elites, but he understands tweaks are necessary to take the next step. It’s time for him to finish what he started in 2003.
“Boy I hope so,” he said with a grin. “My dreams and my goals are set very high.”
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