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Volume 24 No. 156


The Pacers made official today that President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird is stepping down, and that former team President Donnie Walsh is returning to fill that role. Also, Kevin Pritchard will move from Dir of Player Personnel to GM, replacing David Morway, who resigned yesterday. Bird said, "I'm going to take some time off and evaluate what I will do in the future. This has nothing to do with any conflict or anything else, it's just time. I considered leaving last year, so this shouldn't be a surprise" (Pacers). In Indianapolis, Mike Wells writes Bird had “lost faith in Morway in training camp last season,” after which Bird "distanced himself from Morway.” Bird, who has "suffered from back and shoulder problems, met with” team Owner Herb Simon yesterday. It is unclear if Bird “will stay on through” tomorrow’s NBA Draft (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 6/27).’s Sekou Smith noted Bird’s departure “isn’t a stunner, only because there has been speculation that he would walk away at the end of each of his seasons at the helm.” The “more surprising news is that Walsh is set to return to his old position within the organization where he was beloved by all involved” (, 6/26). NBA TV’s David Aldridge said once Walsh was “available, I think Larry felt very good about stepping aside because he and Donnie are very close.” Walsh “did not want to take a job in Indiana unless he had the blessing of Larry Bird.” Aldridge said Walsh was “very concerned about stepping on toes and making any appearance that he was trying to horn-in on what Larry wanted to do." Aldridge: "Once Larry decided it was time for him to step away, it was an easy call” (“Game Time,” NBA TV, 6/26).

BIG LOSS FOR THE FRANCHISE: L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke called Bird's departure a "huge loss" for the Pacers. Plaschke: "Bird is a presence on this team, he’s kind of the conscience on this team, he calls them out.” ESPN's Michael Smith said, "We’ve got to be careful not to minimize this loss, but at the same time not quite overstate it.” Smith said Bird leaving is a “significant loss, but not a devastating loss." Smith: "The succession plan is in place … but you wouldn’t be the Executive of the Year if just anybody could do what you did. ... I’m thinking they’re going to miss him, but they’re not going to fall apart either.” Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, "I hope he comes back in some capacity. Even though he doesn’t say a lot and he stays in the background, he’s been very good for the NBA, far better than we thought he’d be after his playing days” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 6/26). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, “I think Larry Bird has figured out what he wants to do with his life, and it doesn’t have to be neck deep in competition every single day” (“PTI,” ESPN, 6/26).

THE BACK STORY: In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz writes Bird’s departure is “sad and unfortunate, in a way, because Bird did all the heavy lifting necessary to lift the post-brawl Indiana Pacers out of the financial and competitive doldrums and brought them to a point where they look like a 50-win team for years to come.” But the move is “also for the best,” as Bird “came to the decision he could no longer be all in.” Bird has said that there were “not disagreements with owner Herb Simon, either about front office personnel or payroll.” Bird “got what he wanted: David Morway got punted and Kevin Pritchard will take over Bird’s spot as the man who oversees day-to-day operations.” The one thing he “would always bring up was the pain he was feeling in his eternally balky back, the fact it was so difficult to sit for hours on end and watch tape or sit in a gym and watch prospects.” Kravitz: “Unless there’s a back story with which we’re completely unfamiliar, this sounds like a health or quality-of-life issue at its core” (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 6/27).

Whalers Sports & Entertainment President Howard Baldwin has been "nudged off Hartford's sports stage and the future of professional hockey in the city is in doubt," according to Paul Doyle of the HARTFORD COURANT. The NHL Rangers, owners of the AHL Connecticut Whale, "have severed their business relationship" with WSE. The Whale will play at Hartford's XL Center for the '12-13 season, but the franchise's lease "expires after the season and an extension is not imminent." It is "unknown who will handle the day-to-day operation of the franchise for the upcoming season." AEG Management CT, which manages the XL Center, "could inherit operation of the team." Sources said that WSE's negotiations with AEG "have not been productive." The team has been "seeking more favorable terms after paying $25,000 per game in rent last season." If an extension is not reached, the Rangers "will shift the team to another market." It is a "stunning turn from the optimism surrounding Baldwin's return to the scene two years ago." Baldwin was "informed of the change Monday and the Rangers immediately removed all references to Whalers Sports & Entertainment from the Whale's website." Some fans "viewed Baldwin as Hartford's best hope of bringing the NHL back" to the city. However, the Rangers' hierarchy "grew concerned with the financial problems surrounding the team." Reebok, the NHL's equipment and uniform supplier, "was owed money by WSE and turned to the Rangers for help in collecting the unpaid debt." Sources said that Rangers officials "were infuriated by the issue with Reebok" (HARTFORD COURANT, 6/27). In Hartford, Jeff Jacobs writes Baldwin "was under-funded and over-dreamed." Ultimately, the Rangers "told him to get lost." Baldwin was "reckless in signing an onerous three-year deal" in September '10 (HARTFORD COURANT, 6/27).

In N.Y., Tim Bontemps notes as the Nets prepare for G Deron Williams to become an unrestricted free agent Sunday, they “arranged for a flatbed truck” to be outside his home with “a large sign on the back to celebrate his 28th birthday.” It read, “Happy Birthday Deron! from your Brooklyn family." Williams' wife, Amy, posted a picture of the sign on Twitter and wrote to her husband, “This is parked in front of our house!” Meanwhile, the Mavericks, “not to be outdone,” enlisted the help of the MLB Rangers, who last night displayed on their scoreboard: “Happy Birthday Deron Williams Be A Maverick!” (N.Y. POST, 6/27).

DECISIONS, DECISIONS: In Philadelphia, John Smallwood notes the 76ers “face a lot [of] decisions this summer that will lay the foundation for the next few seasons,” and team President & GM Rod Thorn should “not make those calls.” Thorn is "a lame duck,” and unless coach Doug Collins is “already secretly the ‘grand basketball god of everything,’ he should not" be the making the decisions either. Smallwood: "These crucial decisions should be made by the new team president/general manager, a guy the Sixers might not hire for up to another year” (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 6/27).

YOUR BIGGEST FAN: In Memphis, Kyle Veazey notes prospective Grizzlies buyer Robert Pera and his father Larry Goldfield are “estranged.” But Goldfield said, "I happen to love my son, regardless of our estrangement. I love him and I'm proud of him, so I follow him.” He added, "He's like the anti-Mark Cuban. He's got the same enthusiasm, but he doesn't show it. I think he's going to be a very enthusiastic owner and he's going to have high ambitions for the team" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 6/27).