Bird Off to Indy?

May 1997

The Indiana Pacers are feeling more confident about their ability to land Larry Bird, sources told the Herald last night. The team's last concern is that Bird might be convinced to stay with the Celtics in a final pitch by owner Paul Gaston.

Considering how the relationship between Bird and the Celts has seemingly unraveled in the last week, however, there is room to question how receptive Bird would be to such a pitch - and whether the club would even want to make it.

While each side has said on the record it is still interested in working with the other, indications are they would rather be free from each other.

Bird is wary of the backbiting and shifting agendas within the Celtics organization.

The Celtics organization is wary of Bird's unvarnished candor, questioning whether he would be able to deal in-house with issues he believes need correcting.

As one source put it, "Can the Celtics afford to let Larry Bird go? The better question might be whether they can afford to keep him."

If the Celts can lure Rick Pitino into their fold, they could escape the fallout of a Bird departure. Even getting past the issue of whether it would be financially prudent to pay the two the kind of money they can attract, there would be the matter of who is ultimately calling the shots.

But the prevailing public sentiment seems to be that a Pitino in hand would be better than a Bird in the front office - if, that is, one had to choose between the two.

And while Gaston may well be simply looking to create the best staff to build a successful club, he would be foolish not to also has to take into account the public reaction. There are, after all, tickets to be sold and new television and radio deals on the not too distant horizon.

While the Pacers do not necessarily offer Bird the major-market size and tradition of Boston and the Celtics, they do have an uncluttered hierarchy. Bird has had very good discussions with Pacers general manager Donnie Walsh, and the club's ownership has long tried to get him back to his home state.

Walsh has stated a belief said he thinks Bird will do well as a coach in the NBA, but the Pacer offer is also designed to give Bird the opportunity to move to a front office job if he does not find the bench to his liking.

"I wouldn't offer him the job if I didn't think he could do it," Walsh told the Herald recently. "As a franchise, we're beyond that kind of thing - just trying to get him because he's Larry Bird. I think he's got a great mind for the game. Anything he brings to us beyond that is extra."

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