The Indiana Pacers smartly decided not to add much to their slimmed-down payroll during the trade deadline, despite having the cap space needed to make a run at a player making an eight-figure salary, and the group is better off for it. The team added double-figure scorer Leandro Barbosa for a song, smartly signed free-agent center Kyrylo Fesenko this week, and appear ready to fully commit to the East's fifth seed, with most of its regular-season schedule to be played at home.
And now, amidst a series of deft moves, the New York Post is reporting that team president Larry Bird won't be back next season. Ah, horsefeathers.
Bird has been with the squad since 2003, and officially running the show for the last few years, mostly presiding over middling seasons that did culminate in his team's first playoff berth in five years during 2010-11. Of course, the Post's Peter Vecsey has long had quite the clear (some would say "transparent," even) pipeline to Pacer news, so it wouldn't be a shock at all if this turned out. Here's Vecsey:
A handshake promise was given [owner Herb] Simon last summer by Bird that he would consider re-upping for another season, but that has been ruled out. It's believed Simon is aware of such and has a petite list of prospective replacement candidates.
Vecsey goes on to point out that Simon would prefer to hire a big name as a replacement candidate rather than going in-house, potentially not with Pacer front office assistant and former Portland Trail Blazers executive Kevin Pritchard. In his piece, Vecsey names Chris Mullin (ugh) and Reggie Miller (that's … pretty awful) as names to look out for.
All this comes at an unfortunate time for the Pacers, winners of two straight and with a very workable schedule to preside over for the rest of the season. If we're completely honest, losing Bird is probably for the best. He hasn't really acted as the finest GM we've ever seen during his run both working under Donnie Walsh or without DW. He stocked the cabinet too full with questionable players in the years following the Pacers/Detroit Pistons brawl in 2004, alienating the team's fan base so much that it hasn't really warmed up to the Pacers (the team is second to last in attendance, again) despite what will be two straight playoff appearances.
Bird hasn't done an expert job, to be sure, but to replace him with Mullin or Miller? That's a clear step down, which should have the few Pacer fans that deign to show up at the team's Fieldhouse worried.
Walsh would appear to be a viable candidate to take over again, but Vecsey's column seems oddly aware (nudge-nudge) of Walsh's options, to a precise degree. The former Pacer and Knicks boss is still technically on the New York payroll this season, and Vecsey has tossed his name into the ring as a candidate to replace Otis Smith in Orlando, or Ernie Grunfeld in Washington.
Whoever does show up will have some franchise-altering decisions to make, almost immediately. The Pacers will have well over $20 million in cap space to work with during the offseason, and the team is in need of a clear upgrade at the point guard position, where Darren Collison has disappointed in his two seasons at the helm. To an NBAnik, that's a little frightening considering Mullin's past with the Golden State Warriors (where he was too happy to extend player deals without accurately gauging his incumbents' real value in the open market) or Miller's inexperience. Frankly, given the lack of preparation Miller appears to show up for work with during his time behind the mic on TNT, we're not entirely convinced he would want to give up that gig for the relatively grueling (and anonymous, without the weekly TV appearances) job of an NBA general manager.
All this changes if Simon picks the right man for the job, or if Bird has another change of heart (Vecsey reports that Larry was ready to retire last season but was talked into coming back for one final campaign). The Pacers have a solid if unspectacular core that has relied on the smart leadership of coach Frank Vogel to contend for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and the ability to add an out-and-out superstar in the offseason via a free-agent deal or cap-utilizing trade. Even if Indiana's roster doesn't scream "championship" right now, that could change with a few smart moves.
Who's going to be around to guide those moves remains to be seen. Hopefully the Pacers think more about wins in the ledger, instead of a splashy name to put fannies in those seats. They weren't coming out when Larry Legend was in charge, Pacers brass. There's your clue.