May 1, 2017, 9:28 am
The Pacers made some waves this morning when they announced that Larry Bird is stepping down as the team’s President of Basketball Operations.
Bird cited his desire to “do other things away from basketball,” but will remain involved with the Pacers through scouting and management advisory efforts. Current Executive VP of Basketball Operations and General Manager Kevin Pritchard will take over.
This comes at a very interesting time for the Pacers, who have a very tough call to make with Paul George coming up. Once it became known that they were fielding offers on George, most of the talk centered around Bird’s lofty demands in trade negotiations. While the ever-persistent Lakers rumors will continue to swirl, George has given every indication that he’d like to win first and foremost.
Therein lies a second problem – even if George truly would spurn his hometown squad if Indiana is competitive, how far do they have to go to get there? They were swept with relative ease by the reigning champs. PG got a front row seat as the team learned just how far they have to go. Myles Turner is a great young player and the team will likely re-sign Jeff Teague this offseason. Is that core good enough to really contend? They squeaked into the postseason this year and got an incredibly tough draw but even if the Pacers were matched up with the Celtics or Raptors, would they get into round two? Is that the type of question that the (allegedly) winning-focused George really wants to be pondering? Does George really want to deal with another potential organizational pivot?
Indiana could get a king’s ransom for George in a trade, though rumors and leaks have done well to drain the team’s leverage. Still, unless he makes an All-NBA team and gets that max deal with modified implications it seems like he’s not long for Indiana. With Bird reportedly being the team’s chief negotiator, where do things stand now? Surely Pritchard was in the room, but how much of the groundwork on deals was erased this morning? It’s unknown whether Pritchard could pry the same packages from suitors that Bird could – it’s also unknown whether he could negotiate better returns, but either way the Pacers will probably have at least a little work to re-do if they want to move on from George this summer. The ground has shifted beneath their feet and it’s not like they were hanging out and doing nothing when it happened.
The Pacers are also one year into the Nate McMillan era after they fired Frank Vogel, whose philosophies on Indiana’s roster construction and play style ran counter to Bird’s vision for the future. With all due respect to McMillan, he hardly seems like the guy to lead Indiana on a deep playoff run. He was given a vote of confidence from Pritchard this morning, but it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see a change if the Pacers are middling or worse next season. With one of his presumed backers now out of the driver’s seat, who knows what the future holds for Indiana’s coach.
One saving grace appears to be that Bird had decided to leave following 2016-17 before the season began. Perhaps Indiana used the advanced notice to integrate other voices into their high level decision making. On the other hand, Pritchard apparently didn’t know he’d be taking over for Bird until last week. While he was alerted of Bird’s departure before the season, it sounds like the Pacers took the year to weigh their options and only recently settled on the GM.
It’s a surprising situation to be sure; one whose effects we’ll say play out in the coming months as Indiana reshapes their roster.