Larry Bird is stepping down as the head of the Indiana Pacers' basketball operations less than a week after the team was swept out of the NBA playoffs in the first round, according to numerous media reports Friday afternoon.
Bird, 60, has been the team's president of basketball operations since 2003, except for one year. He resigned in 2012, mostly due to a back injury, but came back a year later.
This time, Bird is expected to replaced by Kevin Pritchard, the team’s general manager, according to reports.
Reached Friday, Pacers spokesman Bill Benner declined to confirm Bird’s departure or Pritchard’s promotion, saying the subject would be addressed at Bird’s 11 a.m. Monday press conference.
The news of Bird's departure was first reported by The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. The Associated Press has since confirmed the report, citing an unnamed source. Bird is expected to maintain a consulting role with the team.
The Pacers finished seventh in the NBA's Eastern Conference with a 42-40 record this past season and lost all four of their playoff games to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Pritchard, an NBA front-office veteran, joined the Pacers as director of player personnel in 2011 and became general manager in 2012. He has been Bird’s right-hand man and helped with draft decisions and roster composition the last five seasons.
Pritchard, 49, was born in Bloomington and from 2007-2010 was the Portland Trail Blazers general manager, where he drafted Lawrence North graduate Greg Oden No. 1 in the 2007 draft over Kevin Durant. Oden only played in 114 NBA games due to injuries.
Pritchard’s philosophy comes through in a 2013 book he co-wrote with longtime friend and Stanford University instructor John Eliot. The book’s title—“Help the Helper: Building a Culture of Extreme Teamwork”—comes from basketball, but is aimed at anyone in business.
A four-year starting point guard for the University of Kansas and who played nine years of professional basketball, Pritchard told IBJ in 2013 that he never cared much about appearances, and certainly didn’t care what winning looked like.
“I didn’t care about it being a pretty game,” Pritchard said.
Bird also coached the Pacers for three seasons, culminating in a run to the 2000 NBA Finals, which the Pacers lost to the Lakers 4 games to 2.
Bird's replacement will have a number of issues to contend with.
Jeff Teague must be re-signed this off-season if the Pacers want to keep him and star forward Paul George becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season. George hasn’t been shy about saying he needs better players around him.
Bird has often been the face of the franchise during his tenure as president of basketball operations and has certainly been a favorite among long-time fans his home state of Indiana.
Just Monday, Bird drove a tricked out IndyCar down New York’s 5th Avenue to deliver the Pacers bid to host the 2021 NBA All-Star Game to league Commissioner Adam Silver.
Bird is the only person in NBA history to be named Most Valuable Player (1984-1986), Coach of the Year (1998) and Executive of the Year (2012).
He won executive of the year for helping the franchise rebuild from the wreckage of the "Malice at the Palace," the ugly scene in Detroit that saw players Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal fighting with the Pistons fans.
Bird helped build the team into a contender in the Eastern Conference with back-to-back trips to the conference finals in 2013 and 2014. But the Pacers have taken a step back in the last two years, a major point of frustration for George, one of the league's most versatile stars.
George has not hesitated to make his displeasure with the direction of the franchise known, setting up for what is sure to be a tense summer of talks and decisions that need to be made.
Now Pritchard likely will be driving that bus. Long one of the more respected executives in the league, he left Portland after disagreements with owner Paul Allen in 2010 and joined the Pacers front office in 2011.