Have you seen the new video message from the Indiana Pacers featuring Larry Bird?
He talks about how appreciative the organization is for all the fan support this past season and how he is not even close to being satisfied with the results of the recently completed playoff run.
What a coincidence he would say that considering the work he has to do this off season.
Bird certainly has his hands full in terms of who will be on the roster when the 2014-2015 regular season begins. Forget the fact that they had the best record in the Eastern Conference, as he undoubtedly will evaluate each player and every aspect of a team that collapsed after the All-Star break and failed again to reach the NBA Finals by virtue of their inability to oust the Miami Heat. No one will evade his scrutiny and many of the necessary changes will certainly be made.
While it is crystal clear that Bird is in charge of the day-to-day basketball operations of the club, it gets a bit murky when one examines Bird. Sure, Pacer owner Herb Simon has the final say in terms of financial matters, but who actually holds Bird accountable for what can only be described as a mixed bag of accomplishments since his tenure began?
Soon to be Hall Of Famer Donnie Walsh, who groomed Bird, serves as a consultant to “Larry Legend” but still has Simon’s ear when it comes to the viability of the franchise. Jim Morris, who was basically brought in by the owner to schmooze the Capital Improvement Board for continual financial support has no ties to the basketball decisions, but like Walsh, has a close personal relationship with Simon as well.
Now before you gasp at the notion that Bird’s seat is warming up and his performance needs to improve, consider how weak the Eastern Conference has been these past two seasons and temper the Pacers regular season accomplishments accordingly. It is the playoffs in terms of where the rubber meets the road and just how long should Bird be given to assemble a team that is realistically equipped both physically and mentally of competing for a championship?
Has Bird made some solid moves in his run as the one who calls the personnel shots? Absolutely.
He unloaded Jermaine O’Neal, and in that deal brought in Roy Hibbert. He drafted Paul George and took a gamble on Lance Stephenson at a time when no one else would touch him. He was instrumental in signing David West and bringing in George Hill as well.
Then there is the other side of Larry Legend’s slate that is not so pretty. He drafted Tyler Hansbrough while passing on point guards that could have helped the Pacers, and he traded a No. 1 pick for an over the hill Luis Scola who was vulnerable defensively all through the playoffs. He showed Darren Collison the road despite the fact that he was the best point guard on the roster, and he made Roy Hibbert a lot richer than he should have after unwisely matching Portland’s offer to the wildly underachieving big man.
Oh yeah, he also traded Kawhi Leonard after drafting him to facilitate the George Hill acquisition. That would be the same Leonard that was awarded the NBA Finals MVP award recently. Add in the ill-advised, mid-season signing of the mercurial Andrew Bynum and Bird has given the Pacer brass reasons to question his abilities.
With a vow to improve the team by virtue of free agency and trades, Bird is making it clear that this fall may indeed be the final season for his young core group. Anything short of an NBA Finals appearance will be considered a failure and necessitate even more changes. That being said, at what point does the music stop for Bird? Clearly there were times this past season when he looked less than thrilled about the fact that he had returned to lead a team, one that he largely constructed himself, only to experience yet another playoff meltdown largely due to a lack of a true point guard.
Is it time for Bird’s name to be placed on the list of those we expect improvement from this season?
I would say indeed it is. He will find the balance of his summer to be difficult in terms of assembling a better roster. More than likely Stephenson will get a lucrative offer as a free agent, one that Simon will not elect to match. Trading Hibbert and his monstrous contract will be harder than he thinks and more than likely would not yield a player in return that can help the Pacers. The conundrum he faces regarding who the next point guard will be is real, and will be extremely difficult as well.
Holding his players and coaches accountable is what any good executive should do, but at the end of the day, Bird has to be evaluated the same way, and to date that has really never occurred. Simon is clearly enamored with him, and that respect and admiration has clouded his judgment.
Giving Bird free reign may have been a good idea at one point, but now it is time to reconsider. Add it all up and you can see why Bird may soon need more than a video to explain what happened.
Danny Bridges, who thinks the Pacers are in disarray and in need of an overhaul, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.