Is Indiana's Larry Bird on the Way Out?

The New York Post's Peter Vescey emerged over the weekend with a report that Larry Bird is set to retire as GM of the Pacers at the end of the season. As he wrote yesterday:

Agreed, it's hard to imagine Larry Bird walking away from a multi-million contract that has one year remaining after this one. Nevertheless, two NBA management sources, one inside the Pacers organization and one former employee whose initials are not D.W., contend the team president will call it quits at the season's conclusion -- citing health and lack-of-enjoyment issues.

That eventuality seemingly explains why Jim O'Brien recently was given a contract extension. It's reasonable Bird would take financial care of his coach because a new boss probably would look to make an immediate change, the way Bird did when he fired Isiah Thomas and hired Rick Carlisle.

To which SBN's Pacers blog, Indy Cornrows, issued a two-part response. Their initial reaction came yesterday:

Vecsey has obviously had a checkered past with writing and printing rumors that swirl around the NBA. I don't doubt for a second that Bird wonders if he should return or is burned out by the lack of success in recent years...but, does Bird seem like the guy who would consistently, in interview after interview after interview, say that he's staying in Indiana until he gets the job done and then not go through with it? After reading his three books, following his career as a coach and a team president, I'd be hard pressed to find times when Bird consistently and unequivocally says one thing and does another. Obviously, people change their minds. And maybe this is that occasion. But, I'm going to guess that the Indianapolis Star's Mike Wells, and others, will find plenty of sources who dispute Vescey's claims.

And a more extensive response came today:

For this story you have to consider the source. And I don't mean consider the source in the manner of blowing off the information because the writer is known for stating facts before the fact but rarely retracts when they don't hold up.

No, I mean seriously consider the source and his track record with the Pacers and Larry Bird. One thing I've noticed from Vecsey of late is that he seems stuck in the NBA golden age of the '90's when money was no object and all of his key sources weren't so old. He also seems to have a beef with Bird, so probably relished the chance to drop this headline in the Post. Whenever Bird steps down it won't surprise me and I'm sure his departure will be abrupt and final when it happens, but the overall picture Vecsey paints seems a little sketchy. [...]

Also, Vecsey took Bird to task for whatever role he played in letting a few long-time front office employees go. They were great people who did outstanding work for the Pacers and Vecsey was distraught over the lack of loyalty shown. The problem is, the franchise is hurting financially which has been widely reported. Corporate America is a cruel world when the bottom line is in play and trimming bloated areas of the payroll is standard operating procedure.

No one is happy about it, but this is a business after all. I guarantee, if you surveyed the current staff at the Fieldhouse they'd admit to doing several jobs and working like crazy to keep up with less support.

Which brings me to Vecsey's charge that JOB's contract was extended to make sure he was paid a big bonus in anticipation of his firing upon Bird's departure. With the franchise trying to save every nickel possible, this would be gross negligence on Bird's part and there's no way Herb Simon would sign off on such a deal. Can you imagine after all of the financial doom and gloom we've heard from Simon and the front office? At least publicly, according to a Mike Wells tweet, Simon has responded that he expects Bird to remain as team president after this season.

Also, Bird has done a ton of heavy lifting to break down the salary cap and get the roster in order to truly rebuild over the next two years. Seems like he'd want to see it through. Now if there are health issues then that changes everything which is always possible considering his past issues with his back and atrial fibrillation. Plus, Bird doesn't seem to care whether he's lauded or chided for his front office work, so again, his walking away would be a shock.

Check out their full posts on the matter here, and here.

As with most of what Vescey reports these days, this is pure speculation, couched with "anonymous sources" and "off-the-records" and all other sorts of qualifying nonsense. People forget, of course, that for all the struggles Indiana's endured in the wake of the Artest brawl--it's almost as if the franchise has been cursed since then--Bird's track record as both a coach and GM has been exceptional when considered in full. It's rare for an ex-superstar to experience that much success in a front office position (Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan, Isaiah Thomas... the list of failed experiments is long and distinguished), and it'd be somewhat shocking to see someone like Bird, with his indomitable will and oft-cited committment to building a winner in Indianapolis, just walk away because of "health concerns and lack-of-enjoyment issues."

Ah, does Vescey know who he's talking about? Yes, that Larry Bird, the same man who played through excruciating back pain for the better part of two years toward the end of his career, and probably would have sacrificed a limb if it meant winning another championship. Leaving now would be a glaring shift in character for Bird, and a considerable reversal from everything he's said publicly to this point.

(And besides, I think it's important that Vescey's speculation doesn't obscure the real suspense in all of this: Can Larry Bird, NBA demigod and Indiana royalty, finally field the modern NBA's first-ever all-white lineup? All it takes is a Danny Granger trade and Travis Diener starting at point guard. Come on, guys, let's keep our eye on the ball. This could be history!)

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