Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon and team president Larry Bird reached an agreement yesterday for Bird to continue in that role with the team. This is good news for a rising young team looking to build on the momentum of this season’s return to the NBA playoffs. For some Pacer fans, however, Bird’s retention was not welcome news. In this “win now” sports culture, a return to the playoffs and one playoff win over the Bulls is simply not enough. An examination of Bird’s tenure in the Pacers front office though reveals that this was the right decision.
Bird shared personnel duties with Donnie Walsh, the architect of the outstanding Reggie Miller-led teams of the ’90s until Walsh’s departure to the Knicks in 2008. During that time, the Pacers, once title contenders, saw their roster decimated by Miller’s retirement and the implosion of the team’s core through the brawl in Detroit and off the court legal problems. Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal, Jamal Tinsley, Marquis Daniels, and Shawne Williams were all key players and draft choices jettisoned by the Pacers in an effort to remake their image after these issue had alienated the team from its fan base. So when Walsh bolted for the Big Apple, Bird was essentially left with a young Danny Granger and Jeff Foster to build around.
Absent any real chips to play with in the free agent or trade market, Bird was left to reconstruct through the draft. And to the Pacers dismay, despite their fall out of the playoffs and into the lottery, the ping-pong balls were not kind. That meant the Pacers couldn’t rebuild instantly with a Derrick Rose. Bird set out to rebuild pragmatically, eschewing the “quick fixes” and focusing on bringing in multiple talented young players to establish a new core around Granger.
In 2008, Bird turned the pick of Jerryd Bayless into three players (Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush, and Josh McRoberts) through a trade with Portalnd. In 2009, he drafted Tyler Hansbrough, to the chagrin of fans who wanted hometown boy Jeff Teague or Jrue Holliday, another point guard. Bird not only got a tough as nails power forward in Hansbrough, but stole AJ Price in the 2nd round and ended up with the 21st pick, a point guard, Darren Collison in a trade for Troy Murphy. In 2010, Bird got the sleeper of the draft in Paul George who ended up starting this season and outperforming players like Evan Turner drafted ahead of him. Along with free agent acquisition Dahntay Jones, Bird has assembled a solid playoff-caliber squad. What his personnel moves have lacked in splash, they’ve more than compensated in talent.
Considering what little Bird has had to work with, his reassembly of the Pacers has been nothing short of phenomenal. Simon and the Pacers were smart to bring him back to guide the front office. Now Bird can turn his attention to retaining Frank Vogel to guide the team on the floor and adding more talent to the roster through the draft and the considerable amount of cap room the Pacers have available. Of course, Bird has some chips to play with now, so some trades with other teams who are “caught in the moment” might be in order as well. Bird is all too willing to take advantage of others’ impatience.