It’s strange to be talking about replacing Larry Bird as head of Indiana Pacers basketball operations when he’s having his best year in that position.
There are more than a few NBA analysts who have pegged Bird as the 2012 NBA executive of the year. For the last few years Bird preached patience while promising he’d deliver this city a winning NBA basketball team. Now, he’s fulfilling that promise as the 34-22 Pacers ready for a serious playoff run.
But Bird’s year-to-year handshake deal with Pacers owner Herb Simon leaves his long-term future in limbo. Bird himself has done little to dissuade speculation, saying only that he’ll evaluate his situation at season’s end.
Simon and Pacers President Jim Morris have given Bird unwavering support since the day he replaced Donnie Walsh. But Bird has a bad back and a littany of other nagging aches and pains from his playing days, and sources close to him say he's tired of the 24-7 grind required of NBA basketball operations executives.
Oddly, Bird has never been as popular with Pacers fans as he has been with Simon and Morris. Bird certainly isn’t as popular with fans as Pacers basketball operations boss as he was as the Pacers’ coach and even as a player for the rival Boston Celtics.
That could all change with a victory in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs this year. Bird’s popularity would surely swell if somehow the Pacers could mount a challenge to either the Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls in the East.
Despite the Pacers’ success this year, Reggie Miller’s acceptance into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has intensified speculation about Bird’s future and the position he holds.
There are more than a few fans who would like to see Miller join the Pacers front office. Last week’s Hall of Fame announcement ignited that discussion among local sports radio talk show hosts, TV sportscasts and on Pacers’ Internet message boards.
Simon and Morris wouldn’t object to Miller stepping into the front office. But if Bird wants to stay—and some say he still has unfinished business—don’t expect Simon and Morris to push him aside for Miller.
It’s unlikely there would be enough room in the Pacers front office for Bird and Miller to coexist. Bird and Miller have no problem with one another, but the two together would simply mean one too many stars and big egos in the war room.
But if Bird decides to fly away to his beach home permanently, that may provide Simon and Morris with an interesting quandary.
If Miller wants the job of replacing Bird, he has some undeniable positives. First, Pacers fans absolutely adore Miller. His personality makes him a better front man for the team than Bird. He may actually be popular enough with the fans that he could be one of the few NBA executives to help boost attendance.
Yes, attendance is about winning. But the Pacers are winning and remain 29th out of 30 NBA teams in attendance. Something is missing, and that something may be a connection between the team and this community. Miller might be the perfect person to rekindle the connection the team had with locals during Miller’s playing days.
It’s true that Miller has no front office experience. There are two schools of thought on that.
The first school says Miller needs to come up through the front office ranks before he takes over such an important position. Bird trained under Walsh, though that arrangement became awkward just before Walsh departed for New York.
The second school of thought says Miller played 18 years in the NBA and understands well the inner workings of a professional team. He’s stayed involved in the league as a television commentator since his retirement in 2005. Some have argued that if you surround him with capable executives like David Morway, who is currently Bird’s chief lieutenant, Miller would do just fine.
A lot of dominos would have to fall in the right direction for Miller to succeed Bird. The first is Bird’s retirement. And although no one is pushing him out the door, many believe he could decide to leave of his own accord after this season.
If Bird does pull the plug on his hoops career, it will leave Pacers fans hoping No. 31 can rekindle the old magic in a new role.
And it will no doubt leave Simon and Morris asking, “Is it Miller time?”