Somebody, be it Herb Simon or Donnie Walsh, needs to pick up the phone and get the answer to this question: “Are you in or out?”
Until they get that answer, a franchise on the verge of championship contention will remain in limbo — more perceived than real, but perception can easily become reality in these matters — in its most important area, the top.
“I don’t know what Larry wants to do,” Donnie Walsh said Thursday at a press briefing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “It remains what I’ve said since I’ve got here and probably every other day since, that I’d love to see him come back, he knows he can come back, I’m sure he’s going to direct himself to it but I haven’t talked to him since we got into the playoffs deep so I really don’t know.”
When Bird stepped away last summer, the door was left open to a return, and remains so. But just what Bird wants to do with the rest of his professional life remains to be seen. There was a recent flirtation with the Sacramento Kings that led nowhere but indicate at least a mild interest on Bird’s part of returning to the game.
Whether he wants to return to the Pacers, and to do so this summer, only Bird knows.
Until Bird makes his intentions known, Walsh and Kevin Pritchard will continue the business of running the team, which includes the NBA Draft in two weeks and an incredibly important free agent market in July.
Among the big decisions to be made:
>> Exactly what kind of financial package to offer David West, who becomes a free agent on July 1. While the Pacers desperately want to re-sign him and West has made it clear his first choice would be to remain in Indiana, it’s doubtful the Pacers will be in position to offer him a max contract. That leaves open the possibility of another team doing just that, creating the kind of problem that led to Brad Miller’s departure in the summer of 2003.
>> What to do with Tyler Hansbrough, a former first-round pick who has struggled to produce off the bench. To retain the right of first refusal, the Pacers must make a qualifying offer of roughly $4.2 million by June 30, otherwise Hansbrough would become an unrestricted free agent. Whether a cash-strapped franchise overloaded with big men can afford that price when other areas need to be addressed is a critical and difficult decision.
>> The same decision must be made with Jeff Pendergraph, another reserve power forward, but his qualifying offer is much lower, roughly $988,000.
>> How to strengthen the second unit through the draft or free agency. Two of last summer’s signees, D.J. Augustin and Sam Young, are unrestricted free agents.
>> Managing the draft itself. Bird’s last act as chief executive was overseeing the 2012 draft that produced first-round pick Miles Plumlee and second-round pick Orlando Johnson, neither of whom cracked the regular rotation. The Pacers still have Plumlee and Johnson in their plans but can they approach a season in which they intend to compete for a championship with as many as four developmental players (including two potential picks this year) on the roster?
While Bird’s uncertain status doesn’t impact their decision-making process, it does leave open the possibility of another major shakeup in team hierarchy at some point during the offseason.
Should Bird return, Walsh would very likely step away. As well as the two have gotten along over the years, operating with a high level of mutual respect, the two men have gone about the job very differently.
“I have no doubt that Larry’s going to call me and tell me what he wants to do,” Walsh said. “It just hasn’t happened yet.”
Sometimes, you have to make things happen. In this case, the sooner, the better.
BUTLER’S SMITH SCHEDULED FOR PRE-DRAFT WORKOUT
He isn’t likely to be drafted, but Butler center Andrew Smith will be among the players in the Pacers’ second pre-draft workout Friday. Smith will be joined by a couple of legitimate possibilities for the Pacers’ top pick at No. 23 overall, shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan) and forward Tony Mitchell (North Texas). Others due in are Solomon Hill (Arizona), Chris Babb (Iowa State) and Axel Toupane (France).
A number of second-round prospects worked out Thursday, including Fort Wayne’s DeShaun Thomas (Ohio State), C.J. Leslie (N.C. State), Will Clyburn (Iowa State), Alex Oriakhi (Missouri), Troy Daniels (VCU) and James Southerland (Syracuse).