Larry Bird is calling it quits with the Indiana Pacers.
Bird, perhaps the most respected and adored basketball figure in a state obsessive about the game, will leave his job as the Pacers’ president of basketball operations at the end of Aug. He spent 4 years building the team into an Eastern Conference contender and was this season’s NBA executive of the year, but is instead moving on after asserting just four weeks ago that he was pleased to stay.
Bird said health worries were among the explanations for his departure. He claimed he could need shoulder surgery and cited longstanding issues with his back. Odds
“I just think it’s time,” he revealed at a news conference as the team announced an executive reorganization.
Bird said that he was prepared to leave last year with the organization headed in the correct direction. He and owner Herb Simon had debated his eventual exit for 1 or 2 years. Bird also said that payroll issues with the small-market Pacers did not affect his call.
“(Simon) knows to get to a higher level we’re going to spend some money,” Bird announced. “Every time I went to Herb about a player or about cash to splash, he questioned it. And he should. At the end of the day, he mostly claimed go forward and do what you have got to do to make this team better. That is the support you need. … We’re going to spend money.”
Simon said he had hoped to keep Bird, who will stay on for the draft when the Pacers are booked to pick No. 26 overall in the 1st round. His agreement expires August. 30.
“I feel sad (with) the announcement that Larry’s going to be leaving us,” said Simon. “Larry could have stayed here so long as he wants, but he has his very own reasons. The Pacers franchise appreciates all he’s done for us in his 9 years. We wish him the very best and hope that we can still be connected with him in the coming years.”
The 55-year-old Bird was the Pacers coach from 1997-2000, taking the team to its only NBA Finals appearance that last year before he returned to the team’s front office in 2003. He took full control as president of basketball calls after the 2007-08 season, when Donnie Walsh left to become the NY Knicks’ president.
Walsh is returning as the Pacers’ president. Kevin Pritchard, the director of player staff, is being promoted to GM, replacing David Morway, who resigned. Walsh claimed he will not travel the country to evaluate collegiate prospects, leaving that to Pritchard.
Bird had announced just a month ago that he wanted to stay and expressed interest in a 3-year contract instead of the yearly “handshake” agreements he had with Simon.
It wasn’t to be, and now the Pacers will look to keep on their resurgence. Under Bird, the Pacers went 36-46 in 2008-09 and 32-50 in 2009-10 and then, 2 seasons gone, the Pacers were 17-27 when Bird fired Coach Jim O’Brien in what proved to be a spark.