Celtics forward Larry Bird said yesterday he will not talk contract with club management once the season begins - even if the ownership question is still unsettled. "I won't have nothing to do with it once the season starts," said Bird, who was in town to receive the Seagram's 7 Crowns award as the league's best player. "And they knew that last year. I told them before the season was over - if you want to get it done, get it done now."
Bird has one year left on a contract that pays him a reported $650,000 annually. Although he expects to be the highest-paid, Bird said he didn't necessarily have to have the league's top salary. But he wants something close. "At his plateau, there's really only Julius (Erving) and Magic (Johnson) and Moses (Malone) and Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar)," said Bob Woolf, Bird's agent. "And a lot of people think Larry's the best ever to play the game."
Celtics' Management Doesn't Want to Fiddle and Diddle with Bird. Johnny Most would call it diddlin'. As in fiddlin' and diddlin'. It's his way of saying some hot dog is wasting time dribbling the ball without a real purpose, waiting for something good to happen. Right now the Celtics front office is fiddlin', and if they don't call the right play soon, they may really get burned. It is unfortunate that while management has been spending time with one problem after another (Fitch quitting; Harry selling; Belkin buying; McHale crying; Tiny goodbye-ing) they have just overlooked the most important problem they have at hand - not having Bird in it.
Although he said it without malice on Friday, Bird delivered a message to management that was so subtle that not many people picked up on the real meaning. Bird is a man of few words but when he speaks, he has something to say. This time he said that if he hasn't got a new contract before the season starts, then he isn't going to deal for one. The meaning behind the statement is this: Bird thinks he has done everything for the Celtics that he possibly could in his four years, and he wants to be treated in an appropriate manner. He does not want to go through the same
kind of year-long tango on a new deal that Kevin McHale did.
That's not Larry Bird. He and his agent, Bob Woolf, have told the Celtics what they want. The Celtics have not come across yet, even though there have been discussions back and forth, and both sides are really not that far apart. However, the new contract for Bird is not done, and as long as it isn't, the Celtics risk blowing the immediate future of the franchise without him. Imagine what Larry Bird would bring in the free agent market next spring when his contract is up in Boston. Would you want to buy a Celtic ticket for 1984 and beyond if Larry Bird were not on the club because he hadn't been signed?
The Celtics are talking $1.6 million to $1.7 million per year while Bird/Woolf are thinking $2 million per season. When the talks started, the length of the contract was a hangup. Larry wanted at least six more years. The Celtics were talking less. Now both sides are thinking about seven years, which would be great for Bird watchers. Bird wants the same bread as Moses Malone, who signed for six years at about $2.1 million per year. Moses gets $1.6 in salary, got a $1 million bonus to sign, and has some incentive clauses that give him another $100,000 per year.
Harry Mangurian appears to be letting Bird's contract wait for the next guy. He thought it was going to be Steve Belkin, and Belkin fully intended to have Bird signed within two weeks to show right from the beginning of his reign as new Boston owner that he was willing to shell out serious money to keep the team a serious contender. The feeling here is this: Before he finds the next owner, Mangurian should sign Bird, who is more important to this franchise right now than the next owner is.
The Celtics have already increased ticket prices for next season (mutually agreed upon between Mangurian and Belkin before Belkin withdrew earlier in the week), an increase that would add another $1 million to gross home gate receipts. The raises for McHale ($700,000) and Bird ($1.3 million) alone would raise the Celtics payroll $2 million per year, wiping out the team's average annual profit of about $1.2 million. However, with the ticket increase, the new owner would still have room to make a little money if the team continues to do well at the gate.
Late this past season, Mangurian and Red Auerbach were having a discussion with a third party as to what Bird should be paid. Auerbach was looking for support for his contention that Bird has to be signed no matter what. "The way I feel about it is that you could get rid of all those other stiffs, sign Bird for what he wants, have him pick up four of his buddies from French Lick, and still be a contender," the third party said to Mangurian.
And I still feel the same way.