Indiana's Larry Bird Eager to Make Big Trade, Undecided on Future
With expiring contracts of Mike Dunleavy ($10.56 million), T.J. Ford ($8.5 million) and Jeff Foster ($6.66 million), Indiana is finally in position this summer to have oodles of cap room. But Bird, the Pacers president, said his preference is to use his assets to swing a deal by the Feb. 24 trade deadline to acquire a key player.
"I would do that,'' Bird, 54, who is contemplating retiring from the NBA after this season, said in an interview with FanHouse. "I've got my draft choice (a 2011 first-round pick). The thing I always say is, 'Do you save it and see what the rules are (under a new collective bargaining agreement) or do you use it?' But, if get that opportunity, I'm going to use it (by the trade deadline). ... Do you wait or do you do it? I've made my mind up and I've talked to (Pacers owner Herb) Simon about it, and I've told him what I want to do, if we can get a good player.''
Bird also said coach Jim O'Brien, despite the Pacers (16-25) having lost 15 of 20 games, will finish out the season and then be evaluated when his contract expires. And, while there have been rumblings Indiana's top player, forward Danny Granger, could be on the trading block, Bird said his desire is to retain Granger.
"Danny's one of our integral parts,'' Bird said. "I don't really talk about Danny (in possible) trades. We'd like to add to him, try to get him some help. ... Danny's been been a good soldier. He knows what we're doing. We'd rather add to him.''
Granger, 27, averaging a team-high 21.2 points, welcomed hearing that it looks as if he'll be sticking around.
"Yeah, it makes me feel good definitely that he wants me,'' Granger, whose contract runs through 2013-14, said of Bird's desire to retain him. "I'm still young and in my prime. I got a lot of years left.''
Granger also welcomed hearing these young Pacers might get some help in a trade by next month. Granger hasn't been to the playoffs since his rookie season of 2005-06.
"I've heard that, too,'' Granger said of a possible big deal by the trade deadline. "We have the pieces to do it. We have the ability. We have the means to get it done. So we'll see what happens. ... We're a young team. It's frustrating.''
It wasn't as frustrating just over a month ago when the Pacers were 11-10 and one of the NBA's surprise outfits. But they've since fallen off considerably and have dropped their past five games.
Bird said the problems have been the Pacers being unable to finish out games due to their youth and the need of "another scorer,'' which certainly seems to be the direction Bird might go in a trade. Nevertheless, Bird is still optimistic Indiana can make the playoffs for the first time in five years.
"Because of the East,'' said Bird, whose Pacers are tied for ninth in a conference with little depth, just a half game out of the eighth and final playoff spot. "Three years ago, when I started looking at a lot of this (after Bird replaced Donnie Walsh as Indiana's top personnel man), my goal was to get in the playoffs by the third year. We were rebuilding and took it all the way down. I thought that I could assemble enough talent in the East to get into the playoffs. ... We're not playing well (now), but I really feel in the next couple of weeks, if we get put together, we can make a run. ... Our schedule gets easier.''
But will it be the final run of Bird's NBA career, which began in 1979 when the future Hall of Fame forward entered the league with Boston? Bird has remained in the NBA since retiring as a player in 1992, with the exception of 2000-03. He served as a Celtics special assistant from 1992-97, Indiana's coach from 1997-2000 and returned to the Pacers as an executive in 2003.
Bird, who is in the final year of his contract, isn't certain the Pacers will want him back. Even if they do, he's not yet sure he wants to return.
"I have no clue,'' Bird said of what will happen. "I know the owner wants to sit down and he'll do whatever. He's been very good to me. ... He's a good man, and I told him it's not just me but everybody I got on the basketball side is up (contract-wise after this season). The scouts. The coaches. (General manager David) Morway. Myself. People in my office. And, if he wants to go in a different direction, he can do that. And he won't be sitting there holding a bunch of contracts. So he's in a good position. The franchise I think is in a good position. So we'll just see what happens.
"I've had great success in this league. We went through three bad years but my thing with Herb is to try to get this right. I don't know if I want to come back at this stage. I really don't. ... That's something we've got to talk about. I want to see what direction (Simon) wants to go. He's got options now. He never did have that before.''
Bird was asked why he would willingly walk away after this season and not be around to see the results of his rebuilding. The Pacers have spent the past three years ridding themselves of bad contracts or waiting for them to expire, and now there finally might be better days ahead.
"You're like all my friends,'' said Bird, who has assembled some intriguing young players alongside Granger, including center Roy Hibbert, guard Darren Collison and forward Tyler Hansbrough. "They say, 'Stick it out.' ... It's my 30th year in this league. It's been a great run. I got the best job in the world. There's 30 (top executive jobs with teams) and I got one. ... I have no idea (what will happen with the future). Everybody asks me. I'll wait until after the draft and make a decision. See what my wife (Dinah) wants to do. ... I got to ask my wife. Maybe she wants me to stay home.''
If Bird does leave the NBA, he said he "probably'' would retire from basketball for good. Even though he coached the Pacers to a 147-67 mark during his three seasons, including an NBA Finals appearance in 2000, he said coaching is not an option in his future.
"I liked it but I didn't love it,'' said Bird, a three-time MVP with the Celtics who in 1997-98 become the only man ever to be named MVP and NBA Coach of the Year. "The travel was tough.''
Bird isn't sure what he would do if he leaves the NBA after this season.
"I've been out before,'' said Bird, referring to 2000-03. "I don't know. I'm a little bit older now. My kids are both gone next year (referring to a son and daughter having grown up). So we'll see. If I do do something, it will be one year at a time.''
Count Granger, who is Indiana's second-longest tenured player following 12-year man Foster, as one who hopes Bird sticks around.
"I would like to see him come back,'' said Granger, one of the few bright spots in recent years for the Pacers, who began to fall off after the brawl with Detroit in November 2004 and then had several players tarnish the team's image due to legal problems. "Me and Larry have a good relationship. He's done a good job of rebuilding after everything we've gone through in Indiana. ... We finally have the cap room and we finally have the financial means. So I'd be surprised if he walked away.''
Bird's situation also affects what might happen after the season with O'Brien. While Bird says O'Brien, who is 120-167 in his fourth Indiana campaign, will be retained throughout the season, it remains to be seen how Simon and Bird will sort out his future.
"Obviously, the owner has his input and we talk,'' Bird said. "We'll wait until after the season, just like everything, and we'll talk about (O'Brien's future) and see what direction (Simon wants to go), who's available. ... Look at everything.''
What the Pacers might do by the trade deadline, though, could affect plenty. If they have a good finish to this season and make the playoffs, wouldn't that make Bird want even more to return next season?
"Any time you win, it helps your chances,'' Bird said. "I know we're young, we're very young. I got four or five guys I'm really high on, very talented players. We'll fill it in with the rest of them. Hopefully, we'll have a good draft. We're young. We need veterans on this team. I told our owner a couple of years ago, 'You can't win with young guys.' ... Sometime along the road, we got to get veterans.''
Bird is on the clock as the Feb. 24 deadline approaches. He's certainly going to give it his best shot as his legendary NBA career might be winding down.