INDIANAPOLIS — The NBA Draft is two days away. The free agent market opens next week.
Before the Indiana Pacers can move to profit from those critical events, they must first determine who is in charge.
With today’s news Larry Bird reportedly will step down from his position as President of Basketball Operations, the Pacers are in a state of flux in the front office. The Indianapolis Star, citing “a person with direct knowledge of the situation,” reported Bird is “100 percent sure” of his decision to leave his position.
The New York Daily News reported Monday former team President Donnie Walsh would return to the Pacers in some capacity and various reports indicate former Portland G.M. Kevin Pritchard will take over for David Morway as the general manager.
The Pacers made no announcement regarding the status of Bird, Walsh or Pritchard Monday but did call a press conference for 11 a.m. Tuesday. The franchise did announce the resignation of Morway.
“While I deeply care about this franchise, sometimes change is important for everyone concerned,” Morway said in a statement released by the team. “For the past year I have carefully and thoughtfully considered my personal, family and professional goals. After discussing all of these issues with our owner, Herb Simon, and Larry, I believe this is the right time to step away.”
Bird has not addressed the media since a press conference May 30. At the time, he sounded upbeat and energized about the team and his role in rebuilding the Pacers into a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.
In Bird’s fourth season atop the front office, the Pacers earned the third seed in the East and advanced to the second round of the playoffs before losing to eventual champion Miami in six games.
“I love this team, there’s no question about it,” Bird said then. “This is one of the best locker rooms we’ve had. The attitude has changed in the last few years. It’s been a breath of fresh air.”
The only man in league history to earn MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year, Bird spent 13 seasons with the Pacers, the final 10 in the front office. After a successful run as head coach from 1997-2000, he rejoined the franchise in 2003 as the right-hand man to Walsh. When Walsh left in 2008 to take charge of the New York Knicks, Bird stepped into team president’s role and set about rebuilding a franchise with major salary cap and chemistry issues.
His two signature moves came last summer, when he signed free agent power forward David West and traded for point guard George Hill, moves that took the team to another level.
“I love my job,” he said. “This is one of the best, there’s just 30 of them. Obviously we went through some tough times and now we’re reaping the benefits of what we saw three or four years ago.”
Pritchard was the Portland general manager from 2007-10. He joined the Pacers last season as the director of player personnel. He has attended all of the team’s pre-draft workouts. Morway, who The Star previously reported would not return because of a fractured relationship with Bird, interviewed for positions in Portland and Orlando and has not participated in the draft preparations.
Walsh came to the Pacers as an assistant coach in 1984 and rose to the general manager position in 1986. During his tenure the team reached the conference finals six times and made its only trip to the NBA Finals in 2000, losing to the Lakers in six games.
Exactly why Bird would leave the team is unclear. Throughout his press conference he repeated the desire to meet quickly with Simon to resolve his status, but no meeting was scheduled. He also indicated a personal preference to pursue restricted free agents that did not align with the owner’s wishes.
“I’d go after anybody but I understand his point of view,” Bird said. “If you go after them you’re going to overpay. When we talked about that four years ago I agreed with him. In a small market you don’t want to get into bidding wars for players. I would like to but that’s a rule he’s got and we live by it.”
The Pacers hold the No. 26 pick in Thursday’s draft and have six free agents. Hill and Roy Hibbert are restricted, while Leandro Barbosa, Lou Amundson, Kyrylo Fesenko and A.J. Price are unrestricted. Dahntay Jones has the option to forego the final season of his contract to become a free agent.