Pacers Make It Official: Bird Out, Walsh Returning With Pritchard As GM
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). NBA.com’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” (NBA.com, 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).