Bird Provides Seamless Transition to Walsh and Pritchard

by Rob Laycock

June 27, 2012

"It is time for me to go."

And with that, Larry Bird is leaving the Pacers organization after nine years as the President of Basketball Operations. During his tenure in the front office, the franchise had its best regular season record (61-21 in 2003), a successful rebuilding process, and back-to-back playoff appearances ending in a highly-contested second round series with the Miami Heat.

Fortunately, as Larry emphasized during today’s press conference, the organization is in good hands as former team President Donnie Walsh returns as President of Basketball Operations and Kevin Pritchard will be the General Manager.

“I am happy that these two gentlemen (Walsh and Pritchard) will be able to step up and take over and take us to the next level,” said Bird alongside Pacers Owner/Chairman & CEO Herb Simon, Walsh, and Pritchard at today’s press conference.

Walsh returns to his NBA home after serving as President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks for two years. In his resumed role, he will oversee all basketball decisions starting free agency.

"I’m really excited to be back with the Pacers. I didn’t really expect to be (back), but I am and I’m looking forward to working with Larry Bird,” said Walsh during today’s press conference. “I really congratulate him on what he did with this franchise."

Pritchard joined the organization in July 2011 as Director of Player Personnel. A native Hoosier, Pritchard spent three years as General Manager for the Portland Trail Blazers before returning home. During his time in Portland, he transformed the franchise from a 32-win season to a 50-win season his final year.

"Going to Pacers games when I was young, sitting in this seat is quite an honor," said Pritchard. "The last year has been phenomenal for me to learn from Larry Bird and this organization."

Pritchard was brought into the organization by Bird last summer to share his insights from his time in Portland. While there, he faced a similar situation to where the Pacers were last offseason in terms of cap flexibility. Those experiences were essential to several basketball decisions, including the signing of free agent David West.

"He has done amazing things for our organization behind the scenes—him and Peter Dinwiddie (Director of Basketball Administration)," said Bird. "I’m very flattered to have him and Donnie come back and take my spot."

Though he stepped down from his post as President, Larry will be in Bankers Life Fieldhouse for Thursday’s NBA Draft and most likely will travel to Orlando for Summer League.

"Oh, I’m doing the draft," Bird said with his trademark laugh.

Larry’s involvement during this time is crucial to the transition of the front office to Walsh and Pritchard. Though some may say it is overstated, continuity is key to a successful franchise. The Pacers have the opportunity to make a seamless regime change, which rarely happens particularly when an Executive of the Year is leaving.

An example of the smooth transition occurred shortly after Donnie returned to the Fieldhouse this month. In his first meeting, he confirmed Larry would be responsible for the 2012 NBA Draft. In sports, you rarely see the former and new regimes set aside past accomplishments and egos for the greater good of the franchise.

"When Donnie walked in the door, he asked me, 'Who’s doing the draft?' I said, 'I’d like to.' He said, 'It’s yours,'" said Bird. "The next two weeks will be a great time."

The transition was made possible by Herb Simon. Over the past week, he worked with Larry, Donnie, and Kevin to develop and finalize the conversion plan. Though he was disappointed to see Larry leave the franchise, he is excited to bring back Donnie.

"(Donnie) has brought great success in the past to the Pacers," said Simon. "We know it is going to be a continuation of two of these really great people that I have had the pleasure of working with."

And with that, Donnie Walsh returns to the franchise he put on the NBA map.

Donnie Walsh Background

In 1984, he joined the Pacers franchise as an assistant coach under George Irvine. Two years later, he was promoted to General Manager and drafted Chuck Person, who earned Rookie of the Year honors that season. Another two years later, he was promoted to President. Over the course of the next decade, he set the foundation for the franchise by drafting Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, and Dale Davis, among others, and acquiring Mark Jackson, Derrick McKey and Jalen Rose. During his tenure, the franchise earned four Central Division Championships, a trip to the 2000 NBA Finals and its best regular season record.

Prior to joining the Pacers franchise in 1984, he was as an assistant coach for several college teams, including 12 seasons at the University of South Carolina. He joined his first NBA team when Larry Brown hired him as an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets. In 1979, he became the head coach and held the position for a year and a half. Walsh was born in Manhattan. He played college basketball at North Carolina for Frank McGuire and Dean Smith. Though selected by the Philadelphia Warriors, he never played in the NBA.

Kevin Pritchard Background

In July 2011, Kevin Pritchard joined the Pacers franchise as Director of Player Personnel. Earlier today, he was promoted to General Manager reporting to Donnie Walsh.

Before joining the Pacers, he spent three seasons as General Manager for the Portland Trail Blazers. During his time in Portland, he transformed the franchise from a 32-win season to a 50-win season his final year.

In college, Pritchard played point guard at Kansas. His Jayhawks defeated Oklahoma for the 1988 NCAA Championship. While at Kansas, he played for Larry Brown, who later coached the Pacers, and Gregg Popovich, now the coach of the San Antonio Spurs.

He was born in Bloomington, Ind., and currently resides in Noblesville.

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