Celtics legend Larry Bird leaves presidential perch with Indiana Pacers
CHICAGO — Danny Ainge and the Celtics were surprised by the news yesterday that Larry Bird is stepping down as Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations. The Pacers had yet to make an official announcement, but the initial report by Yahoo Sports was confirmed.
The C’s legend coached the Pacers from 1997-98 to 1999-2000, leading them to the NBA Finals in his final season. Bird left the club and came back as team president three years later, helping fashion the group that was decimated by suspensions after the so-called Malice at the Palace, when Pacers players went into the stands to fight Detroit Pistons fans. He eventually helped gather the crew that reached the Eastern Conference finals in consecutive years.
According to multiple reports, general manager Kevin Pritchard will move into the role Bird is leaving, with Bird remaining as a consultant. That means Pritchard, who played briefly for the Celtics in 1991-92, will have the strongest say in whether the Pacers keep Paul George.
The Celts were in talks for the Pacers star at this year’s trade deadline, but the possibility essentially disappeared when George let it be known he wanted to stay with Indiana and win there and, failing that, he’d move on to the Los Angeles Lakers when he can become a free agent after next season.
Ainge, the C’s president of basketball operations, obviously couldn’t speak to that issue, but he was caught a little off-guard by the news about his former teammate.
“I have no idea why Larry’s doing what he’s doing, but I think Larry’s done a really good job in Indiana,” Ainge said. “They’re not where they want to be right now, but he’s proven that he can build really good teams a couple of times. They never quite got across the threshold, but Larry did a great job putting those teams together. Listen, I think there’s a time and a place for everybody in this business — coaches and GMs and the like. There’s a time when change is needed, and sometimes that’s just change for the people involved as much as it is for the organization.”
Though Bird maintained his composure, he couldn’t hide his disappointment this month as the Pacers were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. Of particular difficulty for him and the franchise was blowing a 25-point lead in Game 3.
Bird clearly took the job to heart.
“It’s hard, and we’ve all been through it,” Ainge said. “Sometimes you try to coach and the players are easily coached and get better, and sometimes you coach a guy until you’re blue in the face and it doesn’t work. You can put players together, and for whatever reason it doesn’t work. The competition in the NBA is fierce, and the quality of coaching and managing is getting better and better all the time. I just think the space between the haves and the have-nots has been pretty much eliminated with parity, not just in play but parity in finances.
“I just think the league is growing and developing, and it’s not easy. It’s not easy building a team, it’s not easy on players, it’s not easy on coaches, it’s not easy on management. I mean, it’s just a difficult business.”