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Sports Business

Does Carlisle's success haunt Pacers' Bird?

June 10, 2011
KEYWORDS Sports Business

If you’re an Indiana Pacers fan, it’s ironic and perhaps a little sad that while your team is looking for a coach, one of its former coaches is on the precipice of bringing Dallas its first NBA title.

And Rick Carlisle isn’t just a puppet sitting on the end of the bench while a cast of all-stars wins the title. He is being lauded for his moves in games four and five that helped Dallas beat a more talented Miami team. Some reporters are suggesting that he is far outcoaching Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

You have to wonder if Pacers player personnel boss Larry Bird is haunted by his decision to fire Carlisle following the 2006-07 season.

It must be especially painful for Bird, who often sides with his head coach over whining players, that Carlisle perhaps left before he was able to bring Indiana the title that is now within Dallas’ grasp. Bird is the same guy who held onto Jim O’Brien way too long because he didn’t want to cave to players’ demands to jettison the head coach.

It was the complaints from players that Carlisle’s style of play was too restrictive that in part led to his departure from Indiana.

It was a painful decision for Bird to part with Carlisle, who he was especially close to and had been friends with since their playing days together in Boston.

For those with short memories, Carlisle was an assistant coach when Bird was the Pacers head coach. Even then, Carlisle got lots of credit for the Pacers run to the 2000 NBA finals.

Bird then hired Carlisle to replace Isiah Thomas for the 2003-04 season as head coach. In his first season Carlisle led the Pacers to the Central Division title and the NBA’s best regular-season record at 61-21. They lost to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. In that year he was nominated coach for the All-Star Game.

In 2005, the Pacers roster was decimated by injuries and suspensions. Carlisle still was able to rally the Pacers to the NBA playoffs that season. As the sixth seed, they again defeated Boston in the first round, before again losing to the eventual Eastern Conference champion, the Pistons.

After the Pacers finished the 2006-07 season with a 35-47 record (missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997), Carlisle's tenure as head coach ended. In four seasons with the Indiana Pacers, Carlisle compiled a 181-147 record.

At the time of Carlisle’s departure from Indiana, there was lots of talk about the players not listening to him any more. It was a similar refrain to the one heard often by Pacers brass and fans during the last two seasons under O’Brien.

Bird eventually fired O’Brien. And it appears to have been the right move, as the team picked up steam after he left.

But Carlisle’s departure? These days that doesn’t look like one of Bird’s best decisions.

Upon his termination, Carlisle said he understood it was time for the Pacers to hear a “new voice.”

Now Pacers fans and brass are left wondering where that voice will come from.

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