What’s next for Pacers?

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An announcement today that Indiana Pacers co-owner Herb Simon will become CEO and Jim Morris will be elevated to president has many sports marketers applauding, but at the same time asking “What’s next?”

Several key questions persist. First, how much steam will Simon, 73, have to put into the rebuilding process and how visible will the somewhat reclusive shopping mall developer become in his new role? Second, what kind of leader will Morris be, and how will the man with more business contacts than anyone in central Indiana reach out to the team’s corporate partners and fans?

In addition to the Simon and Morris announcements this afternoon, the Pacers also confirmed Larry Bird as the head of basketball operations and promoted Rick Fuson as the franchise’s chief operating officer. Simon said he was “energized” by the changes, which were percipitated by Donnie Walsh’s departure. Walsh is now president of the New York Knicks.

“If Herb is energized, that’s a great thing,” said David Morton, president of locally based Sunrise Sports Group. “Turning this operation around is going to take a whole lot of energy.” Morton said while he thinks Simon might become a bit more visible, “He won’t become Mark Cuban, high-fiving the players as they come off the court.”

Morton said making players such as Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy more visible in the community is much more important than making Simon, who co-owns the team with his 81-year-old brother, Mel, the front man.

Milt Thompson, president of locally based Grand Slam Sports, thinks Morris will start shortly after the season ends tonight by streamlining the franchise’s front office to shore up the team’s sagging bottom line. “After that,” Thompson said, “this team has to turn its attentions to media and community relations. They absolutely have to re-establish this team’s bond with the community. There’s no one more suited to doing that job than Jim Morris.”

Morris has been invloved in this city’s sports movement for more than three decades, has held positions within the Olympics movement, operated the city’s water company and been deeply involved with the world hunger cause.

But is he the right man for this job? And what do you think the Pacers need to do next?

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