Dear Mr. Herb Simon: First and foremost, my sincere thanks to you and your late brother for being such good stewards of the franchise for some 38 years now. You’ve never threatened to move the team over financial reasons, and you were able to successfully navigate the highly intrepid waters that one enters when building a new arena, and a rather superb one at that.
You’ve maintained a relatively low profile when it comes to basketball operations, and you had the luxury of entrusting that responsibility for over two decades to Donnie Walsh, whose enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame is without question grossly overdue. (Work on that, OK?) You wisely gave Walsh carte blanche and that paid some dividends that have been well documented.
Before Walsh departed for his dream job of running the New York Knickerbockers, he had apparently groomed Larry Joe Bird as the heir apparent, and while that initially appeared on the surface to work out, the reality is Bird’s tenure has been riddled with missteps that included poor draft selections, dismal trades and questionable free agent signings.
Bird stepped down due to alleged health reasons, but he later reemerged, and you quickly anointed him as employee of the week, month and year in quick succession.
While I’ve often wondered why you’re so enamored with him, it’s clear he’s one of your family and that’s a dangerous precedent — one that has cost this organization in terms of the on-the-floor product. We all knew Bird wasn’t vacating the throne when he announced Kevin Pritchard as his successor, and your guy Larry has continued to micromanage the team, causing even more confusion and leaving most to wonder what’s next for a proud but floundering franchise.
Now, you can dismiss my opinion; I’m just some know-it-all who still can’t get over the fact the Pacers let George McGinnis get away. I can still tell you what can put the Pacers back in business. You’ve already taken the first step when you decided to spend the cash it takes to hire a proven coach, and now it’s time to let one Richard Carlisle run the entire operation, not just coach the team.
Sure, that will put a number of people on the unemployment line, but they’ll land softly elsewhere, and you’ll be one year closer to restoring this franchise to a respectable, competitive level and enjoying that elusive playoff run.
There’s a reason Carlisle was available, and while he won’t say it, he was surrounded by buffoons in Dallas and had grown tired of a certain superstar making decisions. With a resume that speaks for itself, his hiring is arguably your best move ever. Why you let Larry Bird fire him during his first tenure here is still the million-dollar question, but let’s move forward and let an absolute brilliant basketball mind take it from this point.
You’ve got to allow Carlisle to have total control, or this reunion will go sour quickly. You can’t allow Bird to run the team from a country club. You need to inform Pritchard he’s on thin ice effective immediately.
Carlisle won’t tolerate players who don’t give maximum effort every game, especially on the defensive end. Take a look at this roster, and while you’re at it, don’t get too attached to it, as he’ll look to make changes next year if not at the trade deadline this year. You’re overloaded with guys who really can’t play at the NBA level, but Carlisle will weed them out if you let him.
Yeah, I know, it’s your team, and you don’t need a ham-n-egger like me to tell someone with your track record how to do things. However, this is a business, and you’re failing at it woefully. Maybe it’s your personnel, and perhaps it’s time for a new sheriff.
Give Carlisle the tin star he needs and sit back and reap the rewards. Let Bird know you’re no longer interested in paying him to consult and he can keep his parking spot, but it’s time move on. You can do it, Mr. Simon, and the whole state of Indiana is counting on you.
Danny Bridges, who feels Rick Carlisle is a first ballot Hall of Famer and just what the Pacers need, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.