Larry Bird to meet with Pacers owner
INDIANAPOLIS -- Pacers president Larry Bird finally watched his team return to the playoffs this season.
He'll soon know whether he'll get to complete his rebuilding project.
Bird is in the final year of his contract and owner Herb Simon said Friday that they will meet in the next 10 days to discuss Bird's status. Either they will agree on an extension, or the franchise will part ways with one of the state's greatest hoops heroes.
"My decision will be based on my decision with Mr. Simon," Bird said. "If I like what I hear, I'll probably be back. But if there's some things he sees in the job performance I did and he's not comfortable with it, it might be time for a new voice."
The Pacers head into the offseason coming off their first postseason berth since 2006. The team has four starters with three or fewer years of experience, and the franchise will have the financial flexibility to add pieces. Danny Granger, the veteran starter, is 28, and none of the remaining starters -- Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George or Roy Hibbert -- is older than 25.
Now, Bird wants to see how much Simon is willing to spend to make that group better.
"The big question of mine to him is, 'Now we have the money, are we going to be able to spend it?'" the Hall of Famer asked. "''We waited three years to get to this point, now what can we do? What are you going to let us do?' There's a lot of questions that are going to be asked, and I want to see what direction he wants to go."
Simon said Bird has done his job well.
"He gave us a three-year plan, and I think he's lived up to his three-year plan," Simon said. "He said it would be tough going, but by the third year, he thought we could probably make the playoffs, which he did, and that we would have cap space to build upon the core group that he's established."
Things didn't look so good for Bird three months ago.
The Pacers were 17-27 when the team fired coach Jim O'Brien. Frank Vogel took over as interim coach and the team went 20-18 the rest of the regular season. Indiana challenged the Chicago Bulls before dropping the first-round playoff series 4-1.
Vogel would like to see Bird return.
"He's not 'Larry Legend' because of his physical abilities to play basketball," Vogel said. "He's got a great basketball mind, and he's the one that should be making the decisions, and whatever he decides is going to be what's best for the Indiana Pacers."
Bird was hired as team president in 2003 and shared the basketball decisions with then CEO Donnie Walsh. The infamous brawl between Pacers players and Pistons fans took place in 2004, prompting the team to make talent-depleting trades.
The decision to clean up the roster and financial restrictions slowed Bird's progress.
"We knew moving forward for three years we weren't going to have any money," he said. "If we had a $100 million payroll, it's a lot easier. So we're trying to build a team through the draft without any money."
Bird took full control of basketball decisions after the 2007-08 season, when Walsh left to become the New York Knicks' president. The Pacers went 36-46 in 2008-09 and 32-50 in 2009-10.
This season's team went 37-45.
"I'm not satisfied with how we did overall, but obviously, we're moving in the right direction, and now we're down to where we have a lot of cap space and we've just got to use it the right way," Bird said.
No matter what happens, Bird feels the team has a bright future.
"Our ultimate goal is to get back to being competitive for the Eastern Conference championship, and I'm very high on a lot of our players," he said. "I think in the draft, we'll be lucky enough to get another great player and just continue to build this."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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