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Bird Returning? Walsh Doesn't Know

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

June 7, 2013, 7:08 PM

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Larry Bird's future with the Pacers remains in limbo, his decision on whether to return as team president a mystery even to the man he would replace.

Donnie Walsh, who returned to the role last summer after Bird decided to step away, last talked with Bird shortly before the playoffs began and didn't learn a thing about his plans. “I told him he should come back, but he didn't really give me an answer, so I said that's the last time I was going to ask,” Walsh said Friday. “And it was.”

Bird, the NBA's Executive of the Year in 2012, has lived in Naples, Fla. and Nashville, Ind. for the past year. He attended a Pacers' practice early in the season and a game against Cleveland on April 9, but otherwise has been a ghost hovering over the team he mostly built.

He has been rumored to be a candidate to take over the basketball operations of the Sacramento Kings, who are under new ownership. Retired NBA columnist Peter Vecsey tweeted on Thursday that Bird had met with Kings owner Vivek Ranadive that day and was asking for an annual salary of $5 million and a stake of ownership. More reliable reports in the Sacramento Bee and USA Today stated that Bird and Ranadive had talked, but not met. Walsh said Bird's daughter had told him on Thursday that Bird was in Nashville.

Walsh took the job with the understanding it would be for one year, and is willing to resume retirement if Bird returns and general manager Kevin Pritchard and vice-president of basketball operations Peter Dinwiddie continue in their roles.

“That's enough on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “You can't have four guys running around here.

“The only way I'd come back is if (Bird) would say, 'I need you to help me with this,' or something like that. I know I could do that. In that role you can call people in the league and find out a lot of things. You're not the GM or the president.”

Walsh, 72, left open the possibility of remaining the team president if Bird does not return and if owner Herb Simon requests that he do so. But although he enjoyed the past season, he is not concerned with maintaining power or adding to his legacy as a team president.

“I loved doing it,” he said. “I had a great time. A great time. And it surprised me. Because once Danny (Granger) got hurt I didn't think that this team was going to be all that everybody in this franchise was betting on. And it was.

“I tried to do the job the way I see it. I've had my career. People ask, 'What's your legacy going to be?' My legacy? I hope it's my kids and my family. You guys make whatever you want out of it. I got paid. When I got started I wanted to make my living at it. That's that.”

Should Bird take the job in Sacramento, he would face a rebuilding job even greater than the one he had with the Pacers, when he assumed full-time control of the basketball operations in 2008. The Kings finished 28-54 last season, and have a major decision to make on talented but troubled center Demarcus Cousins. The Kings already have hired a new coach, Michael Malone.

“It takes a lot of courage to go do it the first time,” Walsh said. “Do you want to do it again and rebuild the team? It won't be fun. It's not fun. And you're going to lose (for awhile).”

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