Larry Bird rebuffed Cavaliers' interest
Byron Scott will coach the Cleveland Cavaliers formally for the first time Tuesday night when the Cavs launch the post-LeBron era with an exhibition game at home against Charlotte.
Scott, however, was not the only prominent alumnus of the storied Lakers-Celtics rivalry of the 1980s whom the Cavaliers approached. They also reached out to Larry Bird, ESPN.com has learned.
The Cavs' unsuccessful run at Michigan State's Tom Izzo -- at the behest of Cavs owner and Michigan State alumnus Dan Gilbert -- has been well-chronicled. At the same time, though, they also scoured the coaching map in search of players-turned-coaches of the highest stature to impress LeBron James, hoping that kind of hire could boost their chances of keeping him in free agency.
Sources close to the situation have confirmed that, before naming Scott as their new coach July 2, Cleveland officials thus contacted Bird to see if they could convince the Indiana Pacers' team president to consider returning to coaching.
Bird did take the call, sources said, but quickly informed the Cavs that he had no interest in coaching again. Sources said Bird, 53, let Cleveland know that he wants to continue in his front-office work with the Pacers and that he has all but ruled out coaching again because of health and family reasons.
The Cavaliers are known to have drawn up a long list of candidates when they brainstormed for possible replacements for Mike Brown. In an offseason interview with the News-Herald newspaper in northern Ohio, Cavs general manager Chris Grant declined to offer specifics beyond saying that he spoke to "less than 10" prospective coaches.
Bird has earned lukewarm reviews as the Pacers' top decision-maker since the departure of Donnie Walsh to the New York Knicks in April 2008. But he was wildly successful as Indiana's coach from 1997-98 to 1999-2000, posting a record of 147-67 and achieving a level of respect among players that explains Cleveland's interest, given that James had made it known in the wake of Brown's departure that having a successful ex-player in charge was important to him.
Flanked by two well-regarded assistants to offset his lack of experience -- current Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and defensive guru Dick Harter -- Bird was in charge for Indiana's run to the NBA Finals in 2000. Then he abruptly left the bench, living up to his vow to coach for only three seasons.
Bird remains the only figure in league history to win the league's MVP and coach of the year awards and was routinely lauded by key players such as Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson for his sideline demeanor and influence.
It appears, however, that the Cavs' conversations with Bird never got far enough to describe him as a full-fledged candidate to replace Brown. Scott, by contrast, was one of the first candidates Cleveland targeted and interviewed and commanded support within the Cavaliers' organization throughout the search process and the drawn-out pursuit of Izzo.
Strong recommendations from New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul (arguably James' closest friend in the league) and Mavericks guard Jason Kidd (after some friction between Scott and Kidd in New Jersey) all but sealed Scott's selection over Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw.
Scott won three rings as a player, took New Jersey to the NBA Finals as a coach in 2002 and 2003 and won coach of the year honors in New Orleans in 2008. He's already won admirers in Cleveland for his persistent optimism and confidence in the face of James' devastating departure.
"I think I'm the perfect guy for the job," Scott said shortly after his appointment, seemingly unruffled by the knowledge that the Cavs got deep into negotiations with Izzo and clearly spoke to others.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.