When Larry Bird announced his departure from his role as the president of the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the decision was met with little surprise. After being involved with the organization for 20 years, including a stint as head coach and two stints as president, Bird had finally maxed out in his attempt to bring an NBA championship to his home state of Indiana.
Bird and Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard went all in this past offseason, trading for point guard Jeff Teague and small forward Thaddeus Young and signing center Al Jefferson to team up with budding superstar Paul George. The Pacers appeared to have the makeup of a team that could challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers’ dominance in the East, but nothing came to fruition quite like it was supposed to. George, who was already a certified star but not yet a top-tier superstar, didn’t quite take it to the next level, and his teammates didn’t help matters.
With Teague having a bit of a down year, as well as shooting guard Monta Ellis, and Jefferson continuing to struggle with injury issues, the Pacers finished a very disappointing 42-40 and, as the seventh seed in the East, were swept by the Cavs in the first round of the playoffs. The latter portion of the season was plagued by distractions, with the ill-fated decision to bring back Lance Stephenson creating numerous and sundry headaches for the Pacers and Paul George’s playoff remarks denigrating his teammates causing the end of Indiana’s season to be somewhat nightmarish.
George seems to be a little fed up with the Pacers and is likely on his way out when he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2018. That is, if the Pacers don’t trade him before then, which they probably should. Therefore, it’s wise for Bird to walk away now. It’s just a shame for Larry’s sake that the Pacers never experienced the success in recent years that they very easily could have.
The Pacers were the only legitimate threat to the “Big Three Era” Miami Heat, consistently testing them in the playoffs. However, George’s ascension was met with a surprising downturn in the play of his veteran teammates. While Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and David West all fell off toward the end of that era in Indiana, Bird was quick to make just enough moves to keep the Pacers relevant. From signing Ellis to drafting promising big man Myles Turner to acquiring several solid veterans, Indiana has just never seemed to jell with George leading the way. Not exactly selling himself as a leader during this year’s postseason, George may not be the guy whom Indiana needs to build around, but, considering that Bird took a chance on the quiet star from Fresno State when he drafted him, it wouldn’t be right for him to make the decision to move on from him.
The Pacers need to rebuild. With proven head coach Nate McMillan just finishing up his first year with the team, it would be safe to choose to rebuild under his leadership. Ellis and Jefferson are no longer good enough to be considered mainstays in an NBA starting lineup. Teague doesn’t seem to fit particularly well in Indiana’s system. So the Pacers’ front office needs to decide if it’s worth giving this veteran lineup one more year in the hope of convincing George to stick around or if it’s more worthwhile to blow the roster up and build around Turner.
But, again, that shouldn’t be Bird’s decision to make. Bird walked away from his role as president a handful of years ago due to fatigue and health concerns but was drawn back in once the Pacers appeared to be NBA championship material. But now that their window has clearly closed for the time being, Bird is smart to step away before the situation becomes ugly. Bird has succeeded in every facet imaginable. In addition to his Hall of Fame playing career with the Boston Celtics, Bird has won Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year with the Pacers. He shouldn’t be forced to be a part of a rebuilding process after all that he’s done for the Pacers franchise. Walking away now is definitely the right call.