Bird Returns

Bird Set to Return

Mark Montieth

June 26, 2013

One year from the day he announced he was taking a sabbatical from the Pacers, Larry Bird returned to the team presidency on Wednesday. The Pacers will make the formal announcement at a press conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday at 10 a.m.

Bird had stated at the time of his departure that he planned to return after a year off to address medical issues, but it was not a certainty until Wednesday morning, when he and owner Herb Simon finalized a multi-year contract.

“We didn't know 100 percent until today,” Simon told Pacers.com. “I had an inkling the last couple of weeks, and we sat down today and finalized it.”

Bird, a Hall of Fame player who coached the Pacers to their only Finals appearance in 2000, was mostly responsible for gathering the team that reached the Eastern Conference finals this past season, including all of the starters. He drafted Paul George, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson, traded for George Hill and signed David West as a free agent.

“The year off gave me a chance to reflect, to rest, to take care of some health issues and it re-charged me,” Bird said in an official statement. “Donnie (Walsh) and Kevin (Pritchard) did a great job and I will lean on both heavily as we move forward toward the goal of competing for a championship.”

Pritchard, hired by Bird in 2011, will continue in his role as general manager. Walsh, who had returned to the team presidency to fill Bird's role a year ago after a year of retirement, will stay with the franchise as a consultant, but will not be involved in the day-to-day operations.

“I don't think you can have three guys try to run a franchise,” Walsh told Pacers.com. “That's the wrong way to go. I think I can be of some value in certain situations that I can't forecast now, whether it's basketball or business or whatever.”

The combination of Bird, Pritchard and Walsh give the Pacers the NBA's most experienced front office.

Walsh had directed the Pacers' basketball operations from 1986 until 2003, when he brought Bird into the front office, and had worked with Bird until 2008. He then directed New York's basketball operations for three seasons. Bird ran the Pacers' draft from 2003-08, and took over fulltime control of the basketball operations until last year. Pritchard was the general manager for the Portland Trail Blazers from 2006-10.

“We have the best front office we've ever had, with Larry, Kevin and Donnie,” Simon said.

Bird had mostly stayed away from the franchise during his year off, spending time at his homes in Nashville, Ind. and Naples, Fla. He had attended one game and a practice during the season and was spotted in the Fieldhouse last week. He also had communicated with some players via texting.

Walsh, who hired Bird as the Pacers' coach in 1998, and then brought him back into the front office in 2003, three years after Bird had stepped down as coach, steps aside once again with no complaints. He had planned to fill the role of president for only one season, although he would have stayed longer if Bird had not returned. He has no formal agreement with Simon for his new role.

“When I came back (last year) I did it because Herbie asked me to,” he said. “It wasn't money or anything like that. It's the same thing now.”

Bird will sit in on the Pacers' draft process Thursday evening, but not in a decision-making capacity. Pritchard and the scouting staff will make a final recommendation, with Walsh having final approval.

“If for some reason we're not on the same page, I'll make a decision,” Walsh said. “But I'll rely on Kevin and the scouting staff. The draft is a little confusing now, so I can't tell you exactly what I think about it, but as we get to the pick we'll do the right thing.”

Once the free agency period begins on July 1, Bird will resume control. He'll have plenty of decisions to make. David West, D.J. Augustin and Sam Young are free agents, and Bird's former draft pick, Tyler Hansbrough, is a restricted free agent, meaning the Pacers can match any offer he receives.

Having built the team from a group that failed to make the playoffs for four consecutive seasons to one that took eventual champion Miami to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals this past season, he'll now try to lead it on the last difficult steps toward a championship.

“I think it's nice that he's coming back to finish the job that he started,” Simon said. “That's what everyone is in this business for, a championship. We lost by one game to the team that won the whole thing. That seems to indicate that we're in the game.

“We have a good core, but we'll always be tweaking, trying to improve. That's the job of Larry and this group.”

Simon also reiterated his stance that he does not plan to sell the team to Bird, as some have speculated, but rather keep it in his family.

“That's not been part of our discussions,” Simon said. “Right now I'm not interested in selling.”