Let’s give Pacer President Larry Bird some credit. When he met with the media this past Sunday to confirm the dismissal of head coach Jim O’Brien and promotion of assistant coach Frank Vogel, he made it clear that there was plenty of blame to go around for the dismal season the Pacers are having. Like a lot of NBA executives do, Bird could have left the blame with the outgoing coach and simply moved on with his plans. That being said, what are Bird’s plans for the future, and how does he fit into them?
Bird has made it clear he will sit down with Herb Simon at the end of the season to discuss his own expiring contract, as well as those of Pacers General Manager David Morway, and the entire coaching and scouting staff. That’s right, a sit down with the owner who probably nudged O’Brien out the door himself, after Bird had given him a public vote of confidence less than two weeks before. Doesn’t sound particularly promising, now, does it?
It is no secret that Simon and Bird both have a high degree of respect for each other and it is hard to imagine anyone, including Herb Simon, firing the legendary Larry Bird. It is, however, a distinct possibility now, considering Bird’s three-year plan for the Pacers’ return to respectability has now gone completely off the tracks. Throw O’Brien under the bus all you want, but ultimately the front office led by Bird must be held equally accountable when this season is over and decisions for the following year and beyond are made.
While Bird has said repeatedly that he will make a decision about his desire to return after the season is over, should this decision even be Bird’s to make?
Judging his overall body of work, one could certainly say no.
The real question is, does Simon have the moxie to release this Hoosier icon and bring in a new president, who will then have the dubious task of transforming this floundering franchise back to respectability.
Clearly, the only reason this current squad is still in contention for a playoff berth is the combination of an absurd NBA formula that allows eight teams from each conference to participate and the severely watered down level of competition that exists in the East this year. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for Bird and company, and when you factor in the aforementioned expiring contracts, it is perfect timing for Simon to change the face and the course of this franchise without having to buy out several expensive contracts a year or two from now. In fairness to Bird, this is indeed a young team, but these are his players, and he is where the buck has to stop.
If Bird was dismissed, would it send shock waves throughout the state and the NBA? Perhaps for awhile, but it is clearly time for the matter to be addressed. Will Simon allow a possible mock run to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and a first round elimination to cloud his business judgment? I certainly hope not.
Danny Bridges, who thinks the Pacers are in fair worse shape than many people realize, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.