In a perfect world, he’d stay put as the Pacers team president for a few more years – if that’s what team owner Herb Simon wants.
After two months of speculation that Bird would cede control of Indiana’s day-to-day operations, Bird told reporters Wednesday he wishes he already had a deal in place.
”I’d do it today if Herbie was here,” Bird said, drawing laughter. ”We’ve got kids working out, we’ve got six free agents, we’ve got a lot going on right now. Obviously, I want to sit down with Herb as quickly as possible. I don’t like this (questions) at all. I’d like a three-year deal, but we have a handshake agreement. It’s hard coming in here and not having the answers.”
Simon did not immediately respond to an interview request from The Associated Press.
Though Bird is clearly frustrated with the ongoing questions about his future, it hasn’t deterred him from doing his job.
He spoke at length about the need to keep his core group together, including restricted free agents Roy Hibbert and George Hill, and has already begun the prep work for the June 28 draft. He said he’d even consider bringing in a free agent if the Pacers could work it under the cap and not risk this team’s promising future.
The question, of course, is whether Bird will be around to make those decisions.
”I love my job. There’s only 30 of them and we’ve gone through some tough times. If you remember, we had to change the culture around here,” Bird said. ”We’ve got good kids in here that want to be here, that are dedicated to this city. I wouldn’t want to sign a four- or five-year deal because I’m getting older. But I have to find out where we want to go.”
What would it take to keep him around?
A face-to-face meeting with Simon, for starters.
Bird said he has spoken with the owner a ”few times” on the phone but has not yet met with him since the season ended last week with a playoff series loss to Miami. When they do get together, Bird said he needs answers about what direction Simon wants to take the team, whether he approves of the front office’s performance, or whether Simon believes the rebuilding process should be further along.
Another key factor may be getting a commitment from Simon to keep the small-market Pacers competitive in a league where some teams are willing to fork out tens of millions of dollars for the top stars.
Bird is willing to work within the financial constraints, though it would force him to build an even stronger bench.
”I’d go after anybody, but I understand his (Simon’s) point of view,” Bird said. ”If you go after someone, you’re going to pay for them.”
Bird has built this team the old-fashioned way – by drafting players (Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough) and developing them through the team structure, making shrewd decisions to trade for others (Hill and Darren Collison) and finding affordable free agents (David West).
Two weeks ago, Bird was rewarded by adding the final piece to an unprecedented trifecta, being voted the NBA’s Executive of the Year. He’s the first to win that award, an MVP award and an NBA championship. Bird won three MVPs and three NBA titles during his Hall of Fame career with Boston and also was Indiana’s head coach for its only NBA Finals appearance in 2000.
He’s been just as successful calling the Pacers’ shots since taking over from Donnie Walsh in 2008.
What Bird inherited was a reeling franchise with a tarnished image thanks to a series of off-court problems. In just four years, Bird turned the Pacers from a troubled franchise that couldn’t make the playoffs into one of the league’s deepest, toughest teams.
Indiana led the series against the Heat 2-1 before dropping three straight and ending its deepest postseason run in seven years.
Coach Frank Vogel credits Bird for the decisions that made it all possible.
”I think as the contracts come up, you’ve got to take it case by case and what Larry has done here is built with a good salary cap,” Vogel said Tuesday. ”We don’t have any bad contracts and as long as you have that, you have a good chance to sustain it.”
Some think Bird may stick around in a different capacity, but Bird flatly ruled out being a consultant. Instead, Bird’s preference seems to be sticking around to finish the job.
”I love this team. There is no question that this is one of the best locker rooms we’ve had and it’s been a breath of fresh air,” Bird said. ”We’ve got to continue to get better. We can’t stay pat, we need to make that next step.”
Notes: Bird elaborated slightly on his calling the Pacers ”soft” following their Game 5 loss against the Heat. He said they were ”mentally” soft. He said he thought the Pacers played tough in the decisive Game 6, but got demoralized by Dwyane Wade’s ability to make shots. He also said that Danny Granger was hurting so badly from his ankle injury that he should not have played in Game 6.