As soon as the Pacers sent out the e-mail announcing a “major press conference” for 10 a.m. Thursday, the speculation began, followed quickly by the breaking news.
You just can’t keep a secret these days.
And so, less than an hour after their initial e-mail, the Pacers sent out the news release confirming the speculation.
Larry Bird will return to the Pacers as President of Basketball Operations, Kevin Pritchard will remain as General Manager and Donnie Walsh will step into a consulting role.
“We are all very happy to have Larry back,” team owner Herb Simon said in the statement. “When he left last July, Donnie and I both told him the door would be open for him to come back when he’s ready. Larry had a huge impact on this team and where it is now so it’s fitting that he comes back at this time.”
The announcement of Bird’s return in and of itself was good news for an Indiana Pacers franchise that he largely restored not only to a place of prominence but respect. But it also contained this not-so-little tidbit: “Bird agreed to a multi-year deal,” which is the best news of all.
The final years of Bird’s tenure were marked by annual uncertainty over his future. He intended to depart after the 2010-11 season but was talked into sticking around by Simon. After the 2011-12 season, even though the team had obviously taken a major step toward elite contention, Bird stepped aside, primarily citing health concerns.
In making that announcement, the Pacers made it clear the door was open for Bird to return.
“The year off gave me a chance to reflect, to rest, to take care of some health issues and it re-charged me,” said Bird. “Donnie and Kevin did a great job and I will lean on both heavily as we move forward toward the goal of competing for a championship.”
Pritchard and Walsh have managed the bulk of the pre-draft work and will remain officially in charge of the process tomorrow night, but Bird’s presence in the war room should only enhance the already strong chances of a trade involving the No. 23 pick.
While Walsh historically has been cautious to make moves with draft picks, Bird and Pritchard both have been aggressive. The Pacers have made trades each of the past three drafts, including the blockbuster for George Hill in 2011, and are reportedly involved in talks with Sacramento that would land guard Jimmer Fredette in exchange for the No. 23 pick and Gerald Green.
Of course, the Pacers need to make moves to strengthen their bench largely because of moves made in Bird’s absence last year, when Gerald Green, Sam Young and D.J. Augustin were signed as free agents. Bird’s most recent draft, which yielded Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson, also offered little help.
Nonetheless, having Bird on hand not only returns stability to the front office, it gives the Pacers a highly influential voice and presence when the free agent market opens on July 1.
So Bird is back.
Somehow, you get the impression he never really left.